United Apologises, Video Shows 71-Year-Old Passenger Pushed To Floor

United Airlines issued an apology Tuesday after a video was released of a Houston-based employee pushing a 71-year-old passenger to the floor during an argument over a ticket. The man was left lying there motionless.

The confrontation took place about two years ago but was detailed in a lawsuit filed last week in Harris County, Texas. The airline is still facing fallout over an incident with David Dao, a passenger who was violently dragged off a flight in Chicago in April.

The video of the Texas pushing incident was obtained and broadcast Tuesday evening by Houston news station KPRC.

The passenger, Ronald Tigner, a Houston lawyer, is suing United and two of its employees for more than $1 million, alleging negligence in the incident that took place July 21, 2015, at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

In response to the video, United released a statement to KPRC saying it is “disturbed by the completely unacceptable behavior shown in a video of a customer and a former United employee.” The employee is no longer with the company, according to the statement.

“The actions shown here do not reflect our core values or our commitment to treat all of our customers with respect and dignity,” United’s statement read. “We are reviewing all circumstances surrounding this incident and reaching out to our customer through his attorney to profusely apologize for what occurred and to make this right.”

The encounter began when Tigner received a boarding pass that was illegible. He made “numerous attempts” to ask for a reprinted pass, but United agents denied him one, according to the lawsuit.

He was told to continue on to the security checkpoint, where Transportation Security Administration authorities refused to let Tigner enter because of his poorly printed pass.

So Tigner went back to the United ticketing area and tried once more to get a new ticket, the lawsuit states. Two United employees, Alejandro Anastasia and Ianthe Phillips-Allred, allegedly refused to help Tigner, laughing and cursing at him, the lawsuit states.

Tigner’s attorney, William Hoke, told KPRC that when Tigner asked Anastasia for a new ticket, he replied with a smile, saying, “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Tigner then told Anastasia to “wipe that smile off your face,” Hoke said, to which Anastasia responded with an obscenity.

Then, Anastasia “suddenly, unexpectedly and violently injured” Tigner, the lawsuit alleges.

Surveillance video shows the United employee checking his watch, turning toward Tigner and pushing him to the floor. Tigner remains there motionless on his back, his legs and arms spread out. Meanwhile, a couple of people who appear to be airline employees stand near Tigner.

But for about 50 seconds, no one appears to bend down to help Tigner, until a woman – identified by Tigner’s lawyer as a flight passenger and nurse – walks over to check on him.

A United employee later called 911, telling the operator, “There’s a 70 year old male that had fallen down,” according to a 911 call published by KPRC. When the operator asked the employee what caused the fall and if the man was awake, the caller said he did not know.

Anastasia was later charged with a felony of injuring an elderly individual, KPRC reported. He was fined and ordered to attend anger-management classes and apologize to Tigner.

The lawsuit alleges the confrontation caused Tigner to sustain “severe personal injuries and damages,” and incur medical expenses and lost wages. It says the altercation left him with “physical disfigurement” and caused him to experience “mental anguish.”

It also says that nothing Tigner did or failed to do “caused or contributed to the incident.”

The lawsuit follows a number of high-profile controversies involving United, and the airline industry as a whole. In April, Dao refused to give up his seat on an overbooked United flight and was dragged off bloodied and limp, to the disgust of other passengers who captured it on video. Dao suffered a concussion, broken nose and two missing teeth, among other injuries, The Washington Post reported.

Since then, other airlines have come under fire for kicking a family off a flight due to a dispute over a birthday cake and booting a passenger from a plane for using a restroom.

One of the most recent confrontations also involved Houston-based United Airlines agents, who told Yennifer Correia she would have to check her 17th-century violin.

A “wrestling match” ensued, The Post reported, leaving Correia with an injured hand.

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London Fire: Man Catches Baby Dropped From 10th Floor

Firefighters direct jets of water at a tower block damaged by fire in London. (Reuters)

London:  A quick-thinking man caught a baby thrown from the “ninth or the tenth floor” window of a building by a desperate woman after a huge fire engulfed a 24-storey residential tower in London. About 600 people were believed to have been inside Grenfell Tower’s 120 flats when the blaze ripped through the building at Lancaster West Estate in Latimer Road.Samira Lamrani, a witness, was quoted by The Telegraph as saying that she saw a woman trying to save a baby by dropping it from a window “on the ninth or 10th floor” to waiting members of the public below.

“People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming,” she said. The windows were slightly ajar; a woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby, she said.

“Somebody did, a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby,” she added. “I could see people from all angles, banging and screaming for help. Members of the public were reassuring them, telling them we’ve done what we can and that we’ve phoned 999, but obviously the look on their face was death,” Ms Lamrani said.

At least six people were killed and over 50 were others injured in the massive fire, with police expecting the death toll to rise.

“My daughter’s friend said she observed an adult who made some sort of homemade parachute and tried to lower himself out of the window,” Ms Lamrani said. “The more I looked up, floor upon floor. Endless numbers of people. Mainly the kids, because obviously their voices, with their high pitched voices – that will remain with me for a long time. I could hear them screaming for their lives,” she said.

Another resident, Zara, said she saw a woman throw her son, who was about five years old, from a fifth or sixth floor window to escape the blaze. “One woman actually threw her son out of the window. I think he’s OK. I think he might have just had some broken bones and bruises,” she told LBC or Leading Britain’s Conversation.

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Airlander 10 reaches 'highest altitude so far'

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The Airlander 10 took off at 18:15 BST on Tuesday

The world’s longest aircraft has successfully completed its fourth test flight, reaching the highest altitude it has attained so far.

The Airlander 10 – a combination of a plane and an airship – took off at 18:15 BST on Tuesday near its base at Cardington Airfield, Bedfordshire.

During the flight, which lasted about three hours, the 302ft (92m) long craft reached 3,500ft (1,067m).

Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) said it was “a hugely successful flight”.

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Amanda Andrews

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Airlander 10 took off near its base at Cardington Airfield

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There was no warning ahead of the flight and it took Bedford residents by surprise

This is the second successful flight flown since the £25m aircraft nosedived during a test flight on 24 August.

No-one was injured in the accident, but the airship’s cockpit was effectively destroyed.

The aircraft, which is the length of a football pitch, was given a pair of “giant inflatable landing feet” as part of a package of improvements following the crash.

The accident was due to the Airlander climbing to an excessive height because its mooring line caught on power cables, an Air Accidents Investigation Branch report found.

HAV developed the vessel, which is quieter and emits less pollution than traditional aircraft, and believes it could be the future for air travel.

The firm is hoping to build 12 Airlanders a year by 2018, some as passenger aircraft that will carry up to 48 people at a time.

Other plans include assisting with coastguard duties and providing military and civil surveillance.

It could also be used for filming and academic research, or delivering heavy equipment to remote corners of the world or for humanitarian missions, the developers have suggested.

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Amanda Andrews

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During the flight, the craft reached 3,500ft (1,067m)

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The craft varied its speed to between 20 and 30 knots, measuring the acceleration and deceleration with the thousands of sensors on board

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The 302ft (92m) Airlander is back on its mast ready for more test flights

Airlander 10 in numbers

  • 44,100 lbs (20,000kg): The mass of the airship
  • 20,000ft (6,100m): The altitude it can reach
  • 80 knots (148km/h): Maximum speed
  • Five days: How long it can stay airborne on manned flights
  • 22,050 lbs (10,000kg): Total payload – the weight the ship is able to carry

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Gunman Shoots US Congressman, Police At Virginia Baseball Practice

Republican Congress member from Louisiana Steve Scalise was injured in the shooting.

A gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington early on Wednesday, wounding several people including House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise before being taken into custody, police and witnesses said.

In a dramatic blow-by-blow account, Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama told CNN the gunman was armed with a rifle and appeared to be a white male, “a little bit on the chubby side.”

Brooks said he saw the man only for a second, and that he was shooting from a chain link fence behind the third base position on the field where the congressional group was holding its morning practice.

“There must have been 50 to 100 shots fired,” he told CNN. “I hear Steve Scalise over near second base scream. He was shot,” said Brooks, adding he helped apply a tourniquet with his belt to a congressional staffer who was shot in the leg.

“One of our security detail was shooting back, but it was our pistol versus the shooter’s rifle,” Brooks said. “The only weapon I had was a baseball bat.”

Fox News anchor Bret Baier tweeted that Scalise was shot in the hip and is expected to survive.

Scalise’s position as whip in the Republican-controlled House makes him one of the most senior figures in Congress. He is a representative from Louisiana.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, said he and Vice President Mike Pence were aware of the shooting and are monitoring developments closely.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected,” Trump said in a statement.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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EU court rules no dairy-style names for soya and tofu

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Soya bean-based foods cannot be given dairy-style names

Plant-based foods cannot be sold in the European Union using terms such as milk, butter and cheese, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has confirmed.

The ECJ was ruling in a case referred to it by a German court and involving German foods company TofuTown.

The company sells plant-based products with names including “Soyatoo Tofu Butter” and “Veggie Cheese”.

It said customers were not misled, because their products plant origins were clear.

Since December 2013 EU regulations have stated that designations such as milk, butter, cheese cream and yogurt can only be used for marketing and advertising products which are derived from animal milk.

There are some exceptions. Coconut milk is allowed, for example, as are peanut butter, almond milk and ice cream.

However, soya and tofu are not exempted.


In the case of TofuTown, German consumer protection group Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb (VSW), which aims to combat unfair competition, complained that the names of its products broke EU laws.

The VSW went to the regional court in Trier in an effort to stop TofuTown describing its soya and tofu products as milk or cheese.

TofuTown argued its advertising did not infringe the EU legislation and so the court asked the ECJ to intervene.

The court ruled that the designations like milk and cheese could not be legally used for a purely plant-based product and said “the addition of descriptive or clarifying additions indicating the plant origin of the product concerned, such as those used by TofuTown, has no influence on that prohibition”.

It is up to national courts to enforce EU laws and this case will now return to the court in Trier.

In the longer term, it would be possible for the European Commission to amend the law to extend the number of exceptions and make it permissible to give soya and tofu products names like milk and butter.

A consumer group or other organisation could bring a similar complaint about dairy-style names in the UK or anywhere else in the EU.

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Wary 'silver surfers' embrace social media

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Older people are embracing smartphones and social media even though many remain wary

Record numbers of older people are embracing social media and smart technology, according to a report from watchdog Ofcom.

But many of them remain wary of about using the internet, with a fifth of over-65s saying they are not confident online.

Despite that, four in 10 baby-boomers – aged 65 to 74 – use a smartphone.

And nearly half of net users in the same age group now have a social media profile.

About nine in 10 of those opt for a Facebook account, with only 6% choosing WhatsApp and 1% signing up for Instagram.

Meanwhile, most of the older age group – over-75s – say they have no plans to go online.

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Senior selfies are increasingly popping up on Facebook

Although older adults were increasingly connected, they still spent less than half the amount of time online that the younger generation did, the report found.

Over-65s spent 15 hours online each week, compared with 32 hours among the 16-24 age group.

When questioned about some of the big issues such as data privacy, a significant number (16%) of over-55s said they never considered it.

Less than half (46%) felt able to identify sponsored links in search engines, with only three in 10 over-75s and four in 10 65-74s aware of personalised advertising.

Alison Preston, head of media literacy at Ofcom, said: “The UK’s older generation is beginning to embrace smart technology, and using it to keep in touch with friends and family.

“But some older people lack confidence online, or struggle to navigate search results.

“Many are new to the internet, so we’d encourage people to help older friends or family who need support getting connected.”

The findings are from Ofcom’s annual adult media literacy report.

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Mosques, Gurdwaras And Churches Help Survivors Of London Fire

People unload supplies from a van at a temporary relief centre for Grenfell Tower fire survivors (AFP)

London:  Mosques, gurdwaras and churches in West London have opened their doors to offer assistance to the survivors of a huge fire that engulfed a 24-storey residential tower block killing six people and injuring over 50 others.

“Sikh Gurdwaras in London have started collecting and distributing spare clothes, toys, toiletries for Grenfell Tower evacuees,” Harjinder Kukreja, a Sikh philanthropist, said.

“The evacuees only have what they’re wearing. We need to support them with spare necessities,” he was quoted as saying by the metro.co.uk.

London’s Sikh community was also praised for helping people in the wake of the UK terror attack.

While St Clements Church in Treadgold St has been turned into an evacuation centre to support Grenfell Tower residents who have managed to escape the blaze.

“If you can help with clothes, food, blankets, toiletries etc please donate,” Labour MP David Lammy said.

The area around Grenfell Tower is home to a large number of Muslims. It has been reported that Muslim communities have rushed to the assistance of affected residents.

“Local Mosque in #latimerroad area open doors for help. Really appreciated by locals. #GrenfellTower #LondonFire,” Syed Ajmal Kazmi said.

One resident, Mohammed, who escaped with his family, said they were up late because of it being Ramazan so they were able to escape the building quickly after smelling smoke.

It is believed that Muslims in the building, up at 1:00 AM due to Ramazan, acted as lifesavers, alerting other residents sand helping people to get out of the burning building.

The fire is believed to have broken out on the second floor of the tower block housing 120 flats over 20 residential levels and four community levels and had soon engulfed the entire building.

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Russia Launches Space Freighter To International Space Station

The cargo ship launched by Russia is due to dock with the ISS on Friday. (File)

Moscow:  Russia on Wednesday launched an unmanned Progress cargo ship carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“The Soyuz-2.1A booster rocket with the Progress MS-06 cargo ship launched successfully from Baikonur cosmodrome at 12:20 Moscow time (0920 GMT),” Russian space agency Roscosmos said in a statement on its website.

The cargo ship, carrying more than two tonnes of essential supplies including fuel, air and equipment and parcels for astronauts, is due to dock with the ISS on Friday at 11:42am. 

The last successful launch of a Progress ship was in February, coming after a similar craft crashed back to earth in December last year.

A commission appointed to investigate the malfunction concluded in January that it was caused by the break-up of the Soyuz third-stage rocket engine, either due to “foreign materials” getting inside or an “assembly fault”.

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Teenagers Rescued After Three-Day Ordeal In Paris Catacombs

A network of 250 kilometres of underground tunnels forms a maze beneath Paris. (Representational)

Paris:  Two teenagers were rescued from the catacombs beneath Paris on Wednesday after getting lost in the pitch-black tunnels of the underground burial ground for three days.

The two, aged 16 and 17, were taken to hospital and were being treated for hyperthermia after being found by search teams and rescue dogs in the early hours of the morning.

“It was thanks to the dogs that we found them,” a spokesman for the Paris fire service told AFP at the end of the four-hour operation.

A network of around 250 kilometres (150 miles) of underground tunnels forms a maze beneath Paris, with only a small section open to the public at an official visitors’ site in southern Paris.

Entering the other galleries has been against the law since 1955, but daredevil school children, explorers and alternative partygoers are known to access them through secret entrance points.

The transfer of human remains from Parisian cemeteries to the tunnels began towards the end of the 18th century for public health reasons, with the bones of approximately six million people found there.

The ambient temperature in the dank narrow passageways is about 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit).

It was not clear who had raised the alarm about the missing teenagers or why they got lost.

The operator of the Catacombs museum, a popular attraction where the queues are sometimes several hours long, stressed that no-one had ever got lost in the two-kilometre (over one mile) of tunnels open to the public.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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European employment rises 1.4% to hit record levels

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Employment reached record levels across the eurozone and the wider European Union during the first quarter.

Statistics agency Eurostat said 234.2m people were in work across the EU between January and March, of which 154.8m were in the eurozone area.

Employment rose by 0.4% in both the EU and eurozone compared with the final three months of 2016.

Compared with last year, 1.5% more people in the countries using the single currency had jobs.

Estonia boasted the biggest rise in employment followed by Malta and Sweden. The worst performers were led by Latvia, Romania and Croatia.

Despite strong jobs figures, other data revealed a slowdown in industrial production which rose by 1.4% in both the eurozone and EU, compared with a 2.2% increase in March.

The positive figures bode well for the bloc’s economic growth figures for the second quarter, after an 0.6% rise in the first three months of the year.

Meanwhile, Iceland’s central bank announced its second interest rate cut in two months, with a quarter point reduction to 4.5%.

In the first quarter, Iceland economy shrank by 1.9% – the sharpest contraction since 2014.

Iceland is part of the European Economic Area but not the eurozone or EU.

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French Aviator Crosses English Channel In 'Flying Car'

The English Channel is about 560 kilometres long. (Representational)

Paris:  Under a clear blue sky, Bruno Vezzoli launched his flying machine down an abandoned wartime runway near Calais, lurching from side to side as he slowly gained altitude suspended beneath a giant canopy.”I would say that the biggest risk, just like with any engine-powered machine, would be a breakdown,” Vezzoli told Reuters TV as he made his pre take-off checks. “Usually you land on the ground, but in this case we would have to do a sea-landing.”

Vezzoli landed safely 59 km (36 miles) away, near the English port town of Dover.

Named “Pegasus” – a winged horse in Greek mythology – the flying car is the brainchild of Jerome Dauffy, an entrepreneur inspired by early aviators such as Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont and Frenchman Louis Bleriot who made the first flight across the Channel in 1909.

“The automotive and aeronautic industries were born around a century ago and it’s only now that we are managing to combine the two modes,” Dauffy said.

Dauffy’s initial ambition had been to build a flying machine that could travel round the world in 80 days.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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London High-Rise Fire Like 'Horror Movie,' Leaving 6 Dead And 50 Injured

LONDON:  A number of people were killed, at least 50 injured and many others missing on Wednesday as a fire ripped through a high-rise apartment building in west London where residents had long warned of the potential risk of a catastrophic blaze.

A thick plume of smoke could be seen for miles around, while witnesses reported people jumping from open windows near the top of the 24-story building after being trapped by the advancing flames.

Hundreds of other residents, many who had been asleep when the blaze broke out shortly before 1 a.m., were forced to flee down dark and smoky stairwells. The building, which is located in a poverty-stricken pocket of one of London’s wealthiest neighborhoods, was engulfed within minutes, said locals.

“It was like a horror movie, smoke was coming from everywhere,” said building resident Adeeb, who hobbled down nine flights of stairs on crutches with his wife and three children.

Adeeb, who declined to give his last name, said there had been no alarms, and that he only learned of the fire when his daughter woke him.

“She said ‘I can see fire’ and I opened the door and could see smoke,” added Adeeb, who is originally from Syria but has lived in Britain for 16 years. One of his daughters was hospitalized.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said “a number” of people had been confirmed dead. London ambulance services said they had taken 50 people to five area hospitals.

At least 40 fire engines responded to the scene, with 200 firefighters involved in a futile effort to contain the blaze. Many rushed into the building wearing breathing tanks, searching floor by floor for survivors even amid concerns that the structure could collapse.

Cotton said a structural engineer was monitoring the stability of the building, but that it was still safe for rescue crews to enter. She said firefighters had climbed as high as the 20th floor to rescue residents and carry them down the building’s stairwell, and that the searches continued.

The fire, which was believed to have begun on one of the lower floors of the 120-unit, public-housing building, was still burning as of 10 a.m. in London, some nine hours after it began.

“This is an unprecedented incident,” Cotton said. “In my 29 years of being a firefighter I have never ever seen anything of this scale.”

Speaking within sight of the burning high-rise – originally white and gray, but most of which had turned a charred black – Cotton said she would not speculate on the exact number of deaths because of the “size and complexity” of the building.

As of early Wednesday morning, people were believed to still be trapped inside a high-rise that is home to about 500 people. Witnesses reported harrowing scenes as residents trapped in top floors leaned out windows, flashing their mobile phone lights and calling frantically for help.

A woman held her baby out a window as fire and smoke surrounded her. At least one person was reported to have fallen from a top floor, in flames.

Sajad Jamalvatan, a 22-year-old biomedical engineering student, had been seeing a movie at the nearby Westfield shopping center with his sister when his mom called to say their building was on fire.

Minutes later, he was back in front of the high-rise, and watched a horror scene unfold.

“As soon as I arrived, someone pointed and said ‘someone is jumping, someone is jumping.’ About 16th or 17th floor, we saw a body coming down.”

“Seeing people die in front of you…” he stared at the sidewalk as his voice trailed offf.

He said the blaze had advanced quickly, and that the alarms did not appear to have been triggered. “There are plenty of alarms in the building, but no alarm went off,” he said. “When I arrived, there were 10 flats on fire. After that, the whole building was on fire.”

“It went like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

The fire raised immediate questions about how a recently renovated high-rise apartment building in the center of one of the world’s wealthiest cities could so quickly become a 24-story inferno.

Residents said they had heard the faint sound of smoke alarms from individual units, but that it was unclear whether the building had an integrated alarm system. Many said there were only minutes to flee before the building became an inferno.

By mid-morning, an acrid smell permeated the area. About 100 people – residents, worried family members and onlookers – stood outside the nearby Rugby Portobello community center. Some were still in their pajamas, having fled in a panic hours earlier.

Neighbors streamed into the center with food. One man pushed a baby stroller teetering with bottles of water, jugs of milk and cans of baked beans.

The building, Grefnell Tower, is located in one of London’s poshest areas, home to celebrities, politicians and wealthy foreigners. It’s just a short walk from Kensington Palace. But the area also includes pockets of poverty, especially in a cluster of high-rise buildings that mark an unofficial western entry point to central London. Authorities said they did not know the cause of the fire, and that it would be investigated.

But residents of the building, which was constructed in 1974 and is used as public housing, had long warned of potential fire hazards even though it was completely renovated just last year.

“It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!” a residents organization, the Grenfell Action Group, wrote in a blog post last year.

KCTMO, which stands for Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization, is the group that runs public housing on behalf of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the west London area where the fire broke out.

On Wednesday morning, the Grenfell Action Group’s web site was updated, with a post on the fire.

“All our warnings fell on deaf ears, and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time,” the post read.

Residents said they had been instructed by management before the blaze to stay in their apartments in the event of a fire, and to wait for emergency services to arrive. They said they had been told that their units were fire-proof for at least an hour.

The management company had no immediate comment.

Nick Paget-Brown, who leads the borough council, told Sky News that he had toured the building last May after it was reopened following the renovation. He said hundreds of people were likely in the building at the time of the blaze.

“I’m really not in any position to answer any questions about the structure,” he said. “Clearly there’s a lot more work to do to actually evacuate the building and to establish how safe it is. This is a very, very, very severe fire.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Iraq Is New Oil King, Beats Saudis in Fastest Growing Market

Iraq has also improved its port infrastructure to ensure a stable supply.

Iraq is gaining the edge over Saudi Arabia in the world’s fastest-growing oil consumer amid an intensifying race among producers to retain their most-prized markets.

Iraq was the top crude supplier to India for a third month in May, shipping 1 million barrels a day, according to shipping data compiled by Bloomberg. Iraqi supplies accounted for 23 percent of India’s purchases last month, up from an average 19 percent in the previous four months, while Saudi Arabia’s share fell by 1 percentage point to 17 percent, the data showed.

Oil producers are facing increasing competition in major markets like China and India as OPEC and its partners continue efforts to curb output to clear a global glut. India’s $2-trillion economy imports more than 80 percent of its crude requirement and the International Energy Agency expects it to be the fastest-growing consumer through 2040.

“Saudis used to be the king when it comes to crude supply, but now it’s becoming a prince,” said R. Ramachandran, the head of refineries at Bharat Petroleum Corp., India’s second-biggest state-run refiner. “Preference for Iraqi crude will continue as Indian refiners continue with refinery upgrades.”

Iraq, which had been the No. 2 seller to India for years, was able to overtake the Saudis as Indian refiners have implemented plant upgrades over the past couple of years, enabling them to process crude with a higher sulfur content.

iraq oil

Iraq had been the No. 2 seller to India for years.

The Middle East nation has also improved its port infrastructure to ensure a stable supply. Iraqi crude used to be less preferred due to delays and inconsistencies in shipments as the Gulf nation lacked the required port infrastructure, according to Ramachandran.

“Iraqi crude is getting attractive and it suits our refineries very well,” said Mukesh Kumar Surana, chairman of Hindustan Petroleum Corp. “Iraq has come out of the supply uncertainties and the pricing is very competitive.”
Indian Oil

The state refiner buys about 4 million tons of Iraqi grades annually on a term basis, which matches the volume it gets from Saudis. Indian Oil Corp., the nation’s biggest processor, will boost Iraqi imports to about 18 million tons in 2017 under term contracts from 15.6 million last year, said Finance Director Arun Kumar Sharma. Saudi purchases will remain steady at 5.6 million tons.

India’s total crude imports in May remained flat from April at 4.35 million barrels a day, according to the shipping data. Iraqi supplies fell 11 percent last month from 1.14 million barrels per day in April, the highest this year.

Iraq, the OPEC member which is among the most closely watched nations for compliance to the group’s curbs, exported 3.93 million barrels a day in May, the highest in 2017, according to vessel tracking and shipping agent data gathered by Bloomberg.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Apple's Tim Cook confirms self-driving car plans

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Tim Cook said he viewed the self-driving car initiative as a “core technology”

Apple’s chief executive has confirmed it is developing a self-driving car system.

But Tim Cook indicated that it is too soon to say whether it would license the tech to other carmakers or try to build its own vehicles.

His interview with the Bloomberg news agency yielded his most detailed comments about the project to date.

Until now, Apple had avoided publicly discussing its plans, although it had confirmed the scheme in US filings.

There had also been leaked details of a change in leadership of the car team, with veteran hardware specialist Bob Mansfield reportedly put in charge last year, as well as images of test vehicles being published on rumour sites.

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems and clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars – there are others,” Mr Cook told Bloomberg.

“And we sort of see it as the the mother of all AI [artificial intelligence] projects.

“It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.

“We’ll see where it takes us. We’re not saying from a product point of view where it will take us, but we are being straightforward that it’s a core technology that we view as very important.”

He added that the rise of AI, electric vehicles and ride-sharing presented an opportunity.

“There is a major disruption looming,” he said.

“You’ve got kind of three vectors of change happening generally in the same timeframe.”

Apple invested $1bn (£785m) in China’s ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing last year.

The publication of the interview coincides with an announcement by General Motors that it has completed production of 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt cars at a factory in Michigan.

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President Trump was shown one of General Motors’ self-driving cars earlier this year

It intends to start testing them in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, in conjunction with the ride-hailing firm Lyft next month,

Jaguar Land Rover also revealed plans this week to test self-driving cars with Lyft in the future.

Meanwhile, Audi has begun teasing a July reveal of a new car – the A8 – that will introduce semi-autonomous features of its own.

“It’s still very unclear who is going to come out on top in this space,” commented Jim Holder, editorial director of Autocar magazine.

“There has been a period of about five years in which car companies and tech companies have been dancing around each other being very wary of the other’s motivations.

“Now it looks like they have realised they have to get into bed together to succeed.

“Apple appears not to have an appetite to get into the carmaking business, which is famously low profit margin and high investment. But it can succeed by being a supplier and doing what it does best, which is working to seven-month cycles, while the car industry is more used to working on a seven-year cycle to produce a vehicle.”

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23 Arrests In Crackdown On Bulgarian Border Corruption

23 customs officers and businessmen have been arrested in a probe into corruption (Representational)

Greece:  Twenty-three customs officers and businessmen have been arrested in a probe into corruption at a major checkpoint on Bulgaria’s border with Greece, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The investigation focusses on alleged kickbacks by Bulgarian transport firms to let trucks pass through the Kulata border point without a check.

Police carried out 83 raids on the homes of customs offices and transport firms in Kulata and Sofia, and seized 63,000 leva ($36,000, 32,000 euros) in cash, the spokeswoman of the public prosecutor’s office, Rumiana Arnaoudova, said.

The operation, launched on Tuesday, led to a six-kilometre (three-mile) tailback of trucks and buses.

The Bulgarian authorities have been embroiled in a years-long effort to stamp out graft, smuggling, tax fraud and human trafficking at the country’s border posts.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Dog Falls Into The River Thames, Man Dives In To Save Him

Anything that involves saving animals, especially dogs, is certain to make news in Britain and although the feats of one particular man in London, did not replace the current headlines relating to the recent election of a new parliament, it certainly got the fingers busy on smartphones posting on social media websites.

What happened was that this young man was walking along the pavement close to the River Thames when he spotted a dog in trouble in the water. Now we imagine that most people would have waited for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution or RNLI which was already seen coming down the Thames to come to the rescue of the “pooch”, but no, our un-named Good Samaritan dived in to the Thames to rescue the struggling dog!

One person videoed the rescue and posted it on Twitter, this shows the lifeboat crew speeding along towards the man, cold and wet by this time and clinging to the rescue chains on the embankment wall with one hand with the other clutching the grateful dog.

Acting like true “Brits” the crew had arrived and naturally grab the dog first and wrap it up in nice and warm in a blanket, before helping the man onto the inflatable lifeboat. Now here comes the thing that really makes this a true British animal story, the dog is not his and has no idea who it belongs to! However, the owner must have seen the rescue from the river bank and he rushes over to thank our friend and of course the lifeboat crew. As the RNLI is a voluntary organisation not supported by government, but entirely by public donations, maybe a nice donation from the grateful dog owner towards the upkeep of the lifeboats could be forthcoming, plus a couple of pints for our gallant rescuer of course.

Twitter comments have been coming thick and fast, some praising his efforts, whilst others not, one person commented: “That was insane. He literally just ran along the pavement and just jumped straight over – without a second breath.”

One of the RNLI’s crew members praised his actions but, Mick Nield warned people against diving into rivers to save animals. The RNLI encourages anyone who sees someone in difficulty in the River Thames to call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.’


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Leo Varadkar To Become Irish Prime Minister, Mumbai Family Ecstatic

Leo Varadkar joined Irish politics at 22 and became an Member of Parliament five years later.

Mumbai:  With the stage set for the swearing-in of Indian-origin Leo Varadkar as Ireland’s Prime Minister, his extended family in Maharashtra is ecstatic and plans to celebrate the momentous occasion.

“Our joy is boundless. But we have not made any formal celebration plans yet. But all relatives shall gather at our home this evening,” dancer Shubhada Varadkar, cousin of the Irish PM designate, told IANS on this morning.

Another cousin, Dipti Bhosale, said she was busy contacting all relatives of the joint family in Mumbai to join the festivities at the Borivali home which Varadkar visited in 2011 as an Irish Minister.

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Extended family members of Leo Varakdar celebrated after he was elected to take over as Ireland PM.

Similarly, separate plans are on in the family’s native Varad village in Sindhudurg district.

On Tuesday, outgoing Prime Minister Enda Kenny formally tendered his resignation to Irish President Michael D. Higgins, paving the way for Varadkar, 38.

Earlier on June 2, when Varadkar was elected leader of the ruling Fine Gael Party in Ireland, his joint family in Maharashtra had erupted into frenzied celebrations .

At that time, the cancer-survivor Shubhada told IANS how it was like “a dream come true” for her as she had virtually predicted in July 2016 that the medico-turned-politician would some day become the Prime Minister.

However, none of the family members could make it for the swearing-in from India as the time was too short for the journey.

leo varadkar family

Leo Varadkar’s Mumbai family celebrated the news of his becoming the youngest PM of Ireland.

“But we shall witness it and celebrate as if we are all physically present there,” she said.

Born on January 18, 1979, in Dublin, Varadkar’s Mumbai-born father was a medico who went to England in 1970 and married a nurse, Miriam, and settled in Ireland.

Varadkar joined Irish politics at 22 and became an MP five years later. 

Whenever Varadkar and his parents visit India, there is day-long celebration, feasting and merrymaking by the joint family in Mumbai, mostly at the Borivali home.

The family is not so sure whether Varadkar will now be able to make it here owing to security and protocol considerations, but they look forward to his visit.

The Irish PM designate’s extended joint family in India comprises four uncles and five aunts, including Manohar Varadkar, 93, and Madhukar Varadkar, who are freedom fighters, and Avinash, 79, a former Indian Railway employee, and a host of cousins and their children.

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Thames Water fined £8.55m for failing to stop leaks

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Thames Water

Thames Water has been hit with its second big fine this year for failing to reduce leakage.

Industry regulator Ofwat has fined the company the maximum £8.55m it can levy and said it may take further action.

In March, the water firm was ordered to pay a record £20m for polluting the river Thames with 1.9bn litres of raw sewage.

Ofwat chief executive Cathryn Ross said Thames’s failure to meet its leakage commitments was “unacceptable”.

Thames Water said that it had outperformed its target for the past 10 years and reduced leakage by 100m litres a day over the period.

“We regrettably missed our 2016/17 leakage reduction target by 47m litres per day, which represents 1.8% of our average daily production,” it said.

Ofwat said it has opened an investigation to consider whether to take enforcement action in addition to the £8.55m fine.

Thames Water said in its annual results on Wednesday that the company had “transformed” its approach to preventing pollution following six offences at six sites in the Thames Valley between 2012 and 2014. The release of untreated effluent made people ill and killed thousands of fish.

The water firm said that it caused 315 pollution incidents in 2016 – higher than last year, but below its target of 340 incidents.

Full-year pre-tax profit tumbled 86%, from £511.2m to £71.1m, which Thames blamed on a loss associated with complex financial products, increased costs and lower property sales.

Chief executive Steve Robertson, who joined in September 2016, said despite the challenges faced during the year, the underlying performance was sound.

Thames Water’s annual report revealed that he was paid a £54,000 annual bonus despite the gloomy results.

The company said the potential bonus was trimmed because of its poor performance.

Mr Robertson’s total pay was £460,000, including the bonus and a pro-rated £550,000 annual salary after taking on the top job in September last year.

Australian group Macquarie sold its remaining 26% stake in Thames Water earlier this year to the Canadian pension fund investor Borealis Infrastructure and the infrastructure investing arm of the Kuwait Investment Authority.

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'Are You With Us Or Qatar?', Saudi King Salman Asks Pak PM Nawaz Sharif

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with Saudi King Salman (File Photo)

Islamabad:  Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan to take a clear position on the ongoing dispute in Middle East regarding Qatar, during a meeting between King Salman and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Jeddah.

“Are you with us or with Qatar?” Saudi King Salman posed the question to Mr Sharif, who had visited the Gulf Kingdom for finding a diplomatic solution to the Qatar crisis, The Express Tribune reported citing diplomatic sources.

“Pakistan has told Saudi Arabia it will not take sides in the brewing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East after Riyadh asked Islamabad ‘are you with us or with Qatar’,” said the daily.

Pakistan has been treading a careful path since Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries severed diplomatic ties with Qatar after accusing the oil-rich country of supporting terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia, it said, wanted Pakistan’s support.

Mr Sharif, accompanied by Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other senior officials, travelled to Jeddah on Monday to discuss the emerging situation in the Gulf world. His mediation visit to Saudi did not achieve any immediate breakthrough.

Citing a senior government official, who was briefed on the talks at the monarch’s palace in Jeddah, the daily said that Pakistan would not take sides in any event that would create divisions within the Middle East.

“Nevertheless, in order to placate Saudi Arabia, Pakistan offered to use its influence over Qatar to defuse the situation. For this purpose, the prime minister will undertake visits to Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey,” it said.

Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said King Salman and Mr Sharif discussed the “latest regional developments” in addition to bilateral relations.

The Saudi Press Agency, while announcing the severing of relations with Qatar, had said it had been done for “protection of national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism”.

Qatar, meanwhile, has indicated that it was willing to address concerns of the countries that ended diplomatic relations with it.

The current crisis in the Gulf is said to be the gravest that the Gulf Cooperation Council has faced in its nearly four decades of existence.

The UAE, Bahrain and Egypt also joined Saudi Arabia and cut off diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar on June 5 on the pretext that its policies are fuelling extremism and terrorism.

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Trump Blocks Stephen King On Twitter, JK Rowling Comes To His Rescue

Stephen King has been one of Donald Trump’s consistent critics.

Washington:  Best-selling author Stephen King, who has been one of the most consistent critics of Donald Trump, appears to have been blocked by the US President’s official Twitter handle.

The horror fiction writer made the revelation by posting on the micro-blogging site.

“Trump has blocked me from reading his tweets. I may have to kill myself,” he wrote.

“Blocked! Condemned to an existential wasteland of Trumplessness!” his another post read.

Soon after author of “The Way Station” tweeted, “Harry Potter” writer JK Rowling said that she would support Mr King.

“I still have access. I’ll DM them to you,” Ms Rowling wrote.

Mr King was blocked after he posted about Donald Trump’s eldest daughter Ivanka.

“If Ivanka Trump had grown up in farm country, like some of us, she’d know her father is reaping exactly what he sowed,” Mr King had written.


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Wages hit by higher inflation

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The amount of money workers are taking home continues to fall as inflation takes its toll, official figures show.

Average earnings fell in real terms by 0.6% in the three months to April, compared with the same period last year.

Before inflation, earnings rose by 1.7% excluding bonuses and were up 2.1% including bonuses, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Unemployment fell by 50,000 to 1.53 million in the three months to April.

The ONS said on Tuesday that inflation reached 2.9% in May.

The number of people in work was the joint highest since records began in 1971 at 74.8%, the ONS said.

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Some Dead, 50 In Hospital, As Fire Engulfs London Tower Block

24 storey building on fire in London, claimed half a dozen lives.

LONDON:  Fire engulfed a 24-storey block of flats in central London on Wednesday, killing some people, injuring at least 50 more and trapping some residents asleep inside the towering inferno.

Flames licked up the sides of the block in the north Kensington area as 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought the blaze for hours.

Plumes of black and grey smoke billowed high into the air over the British capital hours after the blaze broke out at the Grenfell Tower where several hundred people live.

Residents rushed to escape through smoke-filled corridors in the housing block after being woken up by the smell of burning. Some said no fire alarm sounded.

Witnesses said they saw trapped residents desperately shouting for help from windows on upper floors as flames enveloped the building.

London Fire Brigade said the fire engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the block which contained 130 apartments.

london fire

London Fire Brigade said the fire engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the block.

“In my 29 years of being a fire fighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters

“I am very sad to confirm that there have been a number of fatalities, I cannot confirm the number at this time due to the size and complexity of this building.”


London Ambulance Service said more than 50 people had been taken to hospital. A witness told Reuters she feared not all the residents had escaped the fire. Some were evacuated in their pyjamas.

“I looked through the spy hole and I could see smoke everywhere and the neighbours are all there. There’s a fireman shouting ‘get down the stairs’,” one of the block’s residents, Michael Paramasivan, told BBC radio. “It was an inferno.”

“As we went past the fourth floor it was completely thick black smoke. As we’ve gone outside I’m looking up at the block and it was just going up. It was like pyrotechnics. It was just unbelievable how quick it was burning.”

The cause of the fire, which broke out just before 1 a.m. (0000 GMT), was not known, the Fire Brigade said.

Residents said repairs had been made recently to the exterior of the block.

Ash Sha, 30, who witnessed the fire and has an aunt in the building who managed to escape from the second floor, said the local council had renovated the tower.

“One year ago the council renovated the building both externally and internally,” Sha said.

london fire

London Ambulance Service said more than 50 people had been taken to hospital.

“They cladded the outside and insulated the inside. The insulated material is very similar to sponge so it crumbles in your hand. This was just done to tart it up and match the nearby building.”

The local council of Kensington and Chelsea, which owns the block, said its focus was on supporting the rescue and relief operation. It said the causes of the fire would be fully investigated.

More than 20 ambulance crews were at the scene. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said a “major incident” had been declared. Police closed the A40, a major road leading out of west London, while some parts of London’s underground train network were closed as a precaution.

london fire

Police were also clearing out nearby buildings because of fears about falling debris.

“There was bits of building falling off all around me, I scalded my shin on a hot piece of metal that had fallen off the building,” said Jodie Martin, who lives close to the building and sought to save people from the fire.

“I was just screaming at people: ‘Get out, get out’ and they were screaming back at me: ‘We can’t, the corridors are full of smoke’,” he told BBC Radio.

(Additional reporting by Subrat Patnaik and Lina Saigol, Costas Pitas; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel, Richard Balmforth)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Guardian and Observer newspapers to become tabloids

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The Guardian and its sister Sunday title The Observer are to become tabloids, it has been announced.

The papers will switch from a mid-size Berliner format in early 2018, 12 years after changing from broadsheets.

It is part of a “transformation programme” aimed at seeing the loss-making papers break even by 2019, publisher Guardian Media Group said.

The move will also see the closure of printing sites in Trafford, Manchester, and Stratford, east London.

Printing will be outsourced to presses run by Trinity Mirror, the owner of the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People tabloids.

GMG said its advertising business would be restructured and its cost base reduced.

A consultation with print workers affected by the change has been launched.

Katharine Viner, Guardian editor and editor-in-chief of Guardian News & Media said: “The Berliner is a beautiful format which has served our readers brilliantly for 12 years but we know that it is our award-winning, quality, independent journalism that our readers value most, rather than the shape or size of the newspapers.

“We are going to create a new look tabloid Guardian and Observer that are bold, striking and beautiful.”

The Berliner format was introduced by Ms Viner’s predecessor, Alan Rusbridger, who stepped down in 2015 after 20 years in charge.

Although it is a popular size for titles in Europe, it had not been adopted by any national newspaper in the UK.

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The papers moved from Farringdon to a new site in King’s Cross in 2008

GMG spent £50m on new presses for the September 2005 launch, which also saw a complete redesign of the papers.

The Guardian’s masthead which had been used since 1988 was replaced by a three tone blue and white logo, and new typefaces and layout were introduced.

David Pemsel, chief executive of GMG, said: “More people are reading and supporting our journalism than ever before, but the print industry continues to evolve, and we must evolve with it.”

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'People Have Been Burned, I Saw It': Night Of Horror In London

London Fire Brigade said the fire had engulfed all floors from the second to the top.

London:  Shaken survivors of a blaze that ravaged a west London tower block told Wednesday of seeing people trapped or jump to their doom as flames raced towards the building’s upper floors and smoke filled the corridors.

Hanan Wahabi, 39, who lives on the ninth floor of the 27-storey Grenfell Tower, said she was awoken around 1:00am (0000 GMT) by smoke.

“I could see there was ash coming through the window in the living room, which was partially open,” she said, sitting with her husband and son, 16, and daughter, eight, outside a local community centre.

“I looked out and I could see the fire travelling up the block. It was literally by my window,” she said. “I slammed the window shut and got out.”

After the family escaped, she called her brother, who lives on the 21st floor, to see if he was all right.

“The fire hadn’t reached the top of the block at that point,” Wahabi said.

“He said he had been told to stay inside, stay in one room together and put towels under the door. I told him to leave. He said he was going to come. Then I called him and he said there was too much smoke.”

She added: “The last time I saw him they were waving out the window, his wife and children. The last time I spoke to his wife, he was on the phone to the fire brigade. I’ve not heard from them since, the phone is not going through, the landline isn’t going through. That was about 2:00am.”

A witness identified as Daniel told BBC Radio London that people on the upper floors were trapped as the flames rose higher and higher.

“People have been burned,” he said. “I have seen it with my own eyes. And I have seen people jump.”

Another witness named as Jody Martin said he battled his way his way to the second floor only to encounter choking smoke.

I watched one person falling out, I watched another woman holding her baby out the window… hearing screams, I was yelling everyone to get down and they were saying ‘We can’t leave our apartments, the smoke is too bad on the corridors’,” he said.

‘I’m a goner’

Another survivor at the community centre, wearing shorts, a T-shirts and trainers and with a blanket draped around his shoulders, said he saved his own life with just moments to spare.

“My neighbour’s smoke alarm went off and I thought he might have done some cooking,” he said, giving only his first name of Eddie, 55.

“I was in bed and I heard people shout fire, fire, I opened my door and loads of smoke came in. Then two seconds later my neighbour (on fifth floor) called and said, ‘Get the f*** out the building’!”

“I went into the bathroom and I got the towel and wet it and wrapped it around my head. I run out into the hallway, close the door behind me and ran for where I thought the fire exit was. I didn’t find it. It was a matter of life and death — I thought, ‘If I’m in this for another five seconds, I’m a goner’.”

“Then on the ground there was a fireman, he touched my leg and pulled me into where the fire stairwell was. You couldn’t see anything. I just ran down the stairs. There wasn’t that many people on the stairs.

“Loads of people haven’t got out of the building.”

Abdul Hamid, 51, lives on the 16th floor lost everything he owned but counted himself lucky to be alive.

“I have nothing. My passport was in there — it’s gone. I’m meant to be flying to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. Now I’m homeless.”

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Borough Market opens after London Bridge terror attack

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The historic market has been closed since the attack on 3 June

Borough Market is set to reopen for business after it was forced to close following the London Bridge terror attack.

Traders will hold a minute’s silence to remember the victims before the market bell is rung at 10:00 BST.

The historic market has been closed since the attack on 3 June while police carried out forensic investigations.

Donald Hyslop, chair of trustees, said the opening would mark the beginning of a “healing process” for the community.

“It is essential for the well-being of everyone associated with Borough Market that we return to at least a semblance of normality as soon as we can,” he said.

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Borough Market has existed in one form or another for about 1,000 years

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The market is positioned on the south end of London Bridge

A trader support fund has been set up to help those who suffered financially because of the closure.

Opening hours have been extended over the next two weeks, with shoppers able to visit on 18 and 25 June to further help businesses.

Some traders have also created special dishes which they will be selling in exchange for donations to the fund.

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Large numbers of floral tributes have been left in London Bridge

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Messages of condolence have also been left on a wall at the south end of the bridge

Staff at one restaurant in the market, which will be reopening on Wednesday lunchtime, said they had “emerged from a tough time as a stronger family”.

Workers in the El Pastor were hailed as heroes for throwing objects at the terrorists as they burst in during the attack.

In a post on the restaurant’s Instagram page, they said “the kindness and bravery shown by individuals and groups on the the night of 3rd June and afterwards has been awe-inspiring.”

The reopening of the market comes as inquests into the deaths of the eight victims are held at Southwark Coroner’s Court.

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PA/El Pastor

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El Pastor staff were hailed as heroes for throwing objects at the attackers

Not just a market

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Borough Market, positioned at the south end of London Bridge, has existed in one form or another for about 1,000 years, making it one of the oldest markets in London.

Originally a wholesale market, it now centres around artisan foods.

It is one of the largest food markets in the country, with more than 100 stalls selling gourmet goods from both Britain and abroad. As well as selling food to take away, there are more than 30 bars, cafes and restaurants.

It is a tourist attraction in its own right, attracting about five million visitors a year.

The market and its surrounding streets have been used as film locations for such features as Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

London Bridge spans the River Thames between the City of London and Southwark, in central London.

It is often depicted in films, news and documentaries showing the throng of commuters journeying to work into the City from London Bridge Station.

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Hong Kong Upholds Billionaire Thomas Kwok's Graft Conviction

Thomas Kwok is the ex co-chairman of Hong Kong’s largest real estate company. (Reuters)

Hong Kong:  Hong Kong’s top court on Wednesday upheld a corruption conviction against a billionaire property tycoon, putting an end to one of the most high-profile corruption cases in the history of the Asian financial hub. The five-year-long legal battle exposed the cozy ties between government officials and powerful tycoons. 

The panel of five judges on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal found Thomas Kwok, the former co-chairman of Hong Kong’s largest real estate company Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd, the city’s former number two official Rafael Hui and two others, guilty of the charge of “conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office”.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma said of Kwok, 65, who had been released on bail during the appeal: “It will now be necessary for him to return to prison”.

Kwok looked calm but disappointed and lowered his head when he heard the verdict, according to local media. 

He was sentenced to five years in jail and fined HK$500,000 ($64,440) in 2014. He had already served part of that sentence before the appeal.

No more appeals could be made on the case. 


The landmark trial tarnished Hong Kong’s reputation for clean and efficient governance, with Sun Hung Kai Properties paying Hui millions of Hong Kong dollars in bribes, indirectly through two others, to gain government favor.

In a written summary of the judgment, the court wrote that once Hui had accepted a HK$8.5 million payment, “his independence when he assumed office would be hopelessly compromised and he could not properly discharge his duties nor be trusted to do so”.

“The abuse of public trust contemplated by the conspirators was clear”, the statement added. 

Hui, currently serving his seven-and-a-half years jail sentence, served as Chief Secretary and led the civil service from 2005 to 2007.

During that period he was involved in important policy matters concerning two large property developments in which SHKP had “substantial interests,” the summary noted.

The defendants’ lawyers had asserted that Hui did not perform any specific act during his tenure to favour SHKP, and the payment was made shortly before his term started.

But the court dismissed the arguments and said “those who were paying Rafael Hui that sum were not ‘running a charity'”.

Thomas Kwok’s brother and SHKP chairman Raymond Kwok, who was cleared of his charges in relation to the case in 2014, said he felt sad and disappointed at the outcome.

Thomas Kwok’s son and executive director of SHKP, Adam Kwok, told reporters after the verdict he felt helpless but accepted the judgment.

“You can say he’s careless … you can say he’s overly generous, but I know in his heart he does not have any intention to bribe. He really is an upright person,” he said.

The two other defendants in the case are former SHKP executive director Thomas Chan and former Hong Kong Stock Exchange official Francis Kwan. They are now serving a six year and five year prison sentence respectively.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Inditex profits jump 18% as Zara sales soar

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Strong global demand for fast fashion helped drive first quarter profits 18% higher for Inditex, the owner of chains including Zara and Pull & Bear.

The Spanish firm reported a profit of 654m euros for the three months to 30 April, meaning staff shared a 42m euro bonus pot.

Sales rose by 14% to 5.5bn euros.

Zara started offering online sales in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam in the quarter and plans to follow suit in India later this year.

Online growth has helped Inditex to consistently outperform rivals such as H&M in recent years as its fast-fashion model allows it to quickly replicate the latest runway trends into stores in weeks.

While the company also owns brands such as Massimo Dutti and Bershka, Zara accounts for two thirds of group sales.

Inditex opened 30 stores in the quarter and now has 7,385 outlets in 93 countries.

Societe Generale analyst Anne Critchlow said positive currency effects meant she expected profits and margins to rise this year at Inditex.

Meanwhile, US department store chain Neiman Marcus said it had ended talks about a partial or full sale of the retailer, which has a $4.8bn debt mountain.

Its sales have been hit by stiff competition from the likes of Zara and H&M as well as Amazon.

Neiman Marcus reported its fourth consecutive quarterly loss on Tuesday of $24.9m, compared with a $3.8m profit for the three months to April last year, as like-for-like sales slipped nearly 5%.

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'Number Of Fatalities' In London High-Rise Blaze, Says Top Fire Official

“A number” of people have been killed in a massive fire in London, says top fire official.

London:  “A number” of people have been killed in a massive fire in a west London apartment block on Wednesday, London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton told reporters at the scene.

“There have been a number of fatalities. I cannot confirm the number at this time due to the size and complexity of the building,” Chief Cotton said.

Rescue services, giving an early toll, said 30 people had been hospitalised, and eyewitnesses said they had seen others fall or jump from the stricken building.

Flames ravaged the tower, lighting up the pre-dawn west London skyline and sending up a thick plume of black smoke.

Large pieces of debris could be seen falling from Grenfell Tower, a 1970s block in the working-class north Kensington area — a short distance from chic Notting Hill.

Witnesses said they heard screaming from the upper floors as the flames rose in the night and one desperate resident could be seen waving a white cloth from a top floor window.

“They were trapped. They couldn’t come downstairs, especially from the top floor … people have been burned,” a witness identified as Daniel told BBC Radio London.

“I have seen it with my own eyes. And I have seen people jump.”

Another witness named as Jody Martin told the BBC that he battled his way his way to the second floor only to encounter choking smoke.

“I watched one person falling out, I watched another woman holding her baby out the window… hearing screams, I was yelling everyone to get down and they were saying ‘We can’t leave our apartments, the smoke is too bad on the corridors’,” he said.

By early morning, most of the block was a blackened hulk. Clouds of smoke rose into the sky as firefighters sprayed water onto floors within reach of appliances on the ground.

Frantic families at the scene attempted to call their loved ones, fearing they could be stuck inside, and were being directed by police to a nearby restaurant where some of the injured were being treated.

The fire brigade said 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters had been called to the blaze at Grenfell Tower, which has 120 flats.

“Fire is from second to top floor of 27 storey building,” the fire service said on Twitter. Firefighters had managed to evacuate residents up to the 11th floor.

“We can confirm that we have taken 30 patients to five London hospitals following the incident,” said Stuart Crichton, assistant director of operations at the London Ambulance Service.

He added that more than 20 ambulance crews as well as a “hazardous area response team” were at the scene.

“Our priority is to assess the level and nature of injures and ensure those in the most need are treated first and taken to hospital.”

Police cleared nearby buildings because of fears about falling debris and shut down a section of the A40 highway — a normally busy thoroughfare into London.

A London Underground line passing the area near Latimer Road station was also shut down.

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Indonesia Seizes Pangolins, Scales Worth $190,000

The critically endangered pangolin species are on the verge of extinction (Representational)

Indonesia:  Indonesian authorities have seized hundreds of critically endangered pangolins and scales in a haul worth $190,000 after uncovering a major smuggling operation, an official said Wednesday.

Two men were also arrested after navy officers raided a warehouse near a port on Sumatra island late Tuesday, acting on a tip-off that it was being used to store the creatures which are also known as “scaly anteaters”.

They discovered 223 live pangolins, 24 of the creatures which were already dead and frozen as well as nine large bags of pangolin scales, local navy spokesman Sahala Sinaga told AFP.

He said the total haul seized near the city of Medan, which was going to be sent to neighbouring Malaysia, was worth an estimated 2.5 billion rupiah (about $190,000).

It was further evidence that trade in the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal remains a major problem despite concerted efforts to clamp down.

Last year, the reclusive, gentle mammal received the highest level of protection against illegal trade at a global conference in South Africa.

Sinaga said the detained men, both 43, were suspected of being small players in a larger syndicate. They could face up to five years in jail and a fine of 100 million rupiah if found guilty of breaking wildlife protection laws.

“They claimed the pangolins would be shipped to Malaysia,” said Sinaga, adding the scales could have been intended for use in the production of crystal methamphetamine.

Pangolin scales are sometimes used in the production of the illegal drug. The creature’s meat is also prized as an edible delicacy and its body parts as an ingredient in traditional medicine in parts of Asia — particularly China — and Africa.

It was just the latest case of pangolins being seized from alleged smugglers in Indonesia — in August last year authorities found more than 650 pangolins hidden in freezers on the main island of Java and arrested a suspect.

Protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the pangolins found in Indonesia as critically endangered.

Pangolins, which have bad vision but a good sense of smell and hearing, are covered in tough, overlapping scales, and eat ants using pink, sticky tongues almost as long as their bodies.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Massive London Fire, 30 Hospitalized, Many Still Trapped On Upper Floors

London Fire Brigade said the fire had engulfed all floors from the second to the top.

London:  A huge fire engulfed a 27-storey block of flats in central London on Wednesday, injuring at least 30 people and possibly trapping some residents who were sleeping inside the towering inferno.

Massive flames licked up the sides of the block as 200 firefighters battled the blaze for hours along with 40 fire engines. Flumes of black and grey smoke were billowing high into the air over London hours after the blaze was sparked.

London Fire Brigade said the fire had engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the Grenfell Tower, where several hundred people lived on the Lancaster West Estate in west London.

“We have taken 30 patients to five hospitals,” London Ambulance Service said.

london fire

Large pieces of debris could be seen falling from Grenfell Tower, a 1970s block.

Some people were trapped in the fire, with residents desperately shouting for help from windows on upper floors as the fire spread, some British media reported.

Reuters could not confirm those reports. A witness told Reuters that she feared not all the residents had escaped the fire. Some were evacuated in their pyjamas.

Residents related how they woke up to the smell of burning and rushed to escape through smoke-filled corridors.

london fire

Police said “a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries”.

“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire,” London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Dan Daly said.

“This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances.”

More than 20 ambulance crews were at the scene. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said a “major incident” had been declared. Police closed the A40, a major road leading out of west London, while some parts London’s underground train network were closed as a precaution.

london fire

Large pieces of debris could be seen falling from Grenfell Tower, a 1970s block.

The cause of the fire, which broke out just before 1 a.m. (0000 GMT), is not known, the Fire Brigade said. Residents said repairs, including the addition of some sort of cladding, had been made to the exterior of the block recently.

(Additional reporting by Subrat Patnaik; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Philippines Says US Troops On The Ground Near Besieged Marawi City

US army on ground near Marwai City, supporting Phillipines against ISIS.

MANILA:  Armed US troops are on the ground near the besieged Marawi City in the Philippines, but they are in a support role and not participating in fighting ISIS terrorists, a Philippines military spokesman said today.

“There are some US personnel who are operating equipment to provide information on situation awareness to our troops,” Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told a news conference.

“I do not know the exact number and the specific mission. They are allowed to carry rifles for self-defence. But they are not allowed to fight, they only provide support,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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137 Dead In Bangladesh Landslides, Fresh Rescue Campaign Launched

An aerial view of Khagrachari half-submerged in floodwaters in Bangladesh. (Reuters)

Dhaka:  Bangladesh today launched a fresh rescue campaign as the number of casualties due to landslides, triggered by heavy monsoons, climbed to 137 with the majority of them reported in a remote hill district close to the Indian border.

The hilly districts of Chittagong, Bandarban and Rangamati are the worst affected districts, Bangaldesh officials said, adding that the number of victims will rise further as many are still missing under tonnes of debris in southeastern hills.

Officials confirmed 129 deaths but media reports put the number as high as 137 in nearly three days’ of torrential rains due to a depression in the Bay of Bengal which have triggered a series of landslides since Monday in the three districts.

“At least 129 people were found to have died so far while several remained missing as salvage campaign is underway,” an official at the disaster management ministry control room told reporters.

He said some 4,000 people were moved to 18 government shelters as the landslides ravaged their homes and were exposed to the danger of getting buried in fresh mudslides.

With at least 20 landslides, the Rangamati hill district was worst affected and resulted in 99 deaths, including four army personnel involved in rescue operations. Local people said a landslide pushed 15 army men down to around 30 feet, killing the four. A military spokesperson said the troops were called out to clear the landslide rubble from a highway linking port city of Chittagong with Rangamati.

“A fresh landslide at the scene buried the detachment killing the four while one soldier is still missing. Ten personnel were wounded in the (fresh) landslide,” he said.

Many of the victims belonged to the ethnic minority or tribal groups who live in makeshift structures along the hills in Bandarban and Rangamati where power cuts and no road connection have enhanced miseries of the residents, officials said.

At least 27 deaths were reported from the port city of Chittagong which witnessed five landslides while the rest of the casualties were reported from neighbouring Bandarban district where the torrential rains triggered three landslides.

Authorities temporarily halted the rescue campaign at around 10 last night after recovering 129 bodies. Specialised teams of fire servicemen and troops were mobilised to launch afresh the salvage drive.

“We need to accomplish a crucial task of resuming Chittagong’s road communications with Bandarban and Rangamati and Bandarban alongside salvaging the landslide victims,” a Disaster Management official told reporters.

Densely populated Bangladesh is battered by storms, floods and landslides every rainy season but this year’s rain is the worst since 2007 when landslides killed 127 people in the port city.

The incessant rains caused water-logging in many parts of Chittagong and submerged a number of coastal villages apart from triggering the landslides.

“The situation forced us to demolish a protection embankment against tidal surges as it appeared to be obstructing drainage inundating homes and roads,” an official of the city corporation said.

Experts and environmentalists attributed the latest spell of landslides to illegal mining in hills which exposed them to quick erosion during rains.

The three southeastern hill districts of Ragamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari known as Chittagong hill tracts received over 300mm of rainfall in the 24 hours till yesterday.

Meteorologists said the port city of Chittagong alone experienced 222 mm of rainfall during the same period calling the huge quantum of downpour in such a short time to be unusual.

The landslides triggered by the monsoon rains came two weeks after Cyclone Mora hit Bangladesh, leaving eight people dead and damaging hundreds of homes.

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Gulf Feud Travels As US Issues Mixed Signals

Qatar is blockaded by its neighbours and was recently singled out by Donald Trump.

Qatar and its Saudi-led critics are taking their feud to the U.S., using the media to try to garner support for their side of a diplomatic crisis entering its second week 7,000 miles away.

Firing the latest salvo, the U.A.E.’s ambassador to Washington wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Qatar shouldn’t be allowed to own landmarks and businesses in the U.S. and Europe while using the proceeds to finance extremist groups. Elsewhere, Qatari officials have appeared on U.S. networks, including CNN and CNBC, to deny the Saudi-led alliance’s accusations and to decry the blockade against the tiny nation.

Efforts to mediate a solution to the worst crisis in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council have been complicated by contradictory signals coming from the administration of U.S.President Donald Trump, who expressed his support for the Saudi-led action even as his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for an easing of the trade blockade. Both sides are focusing on swaying U.S. opinion because it’s the only viable arbiter, said Sanam Vakil, associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East & North Africa Program.

“They are battling in the sphere of public opinion for unity and a clear American position, something I’m not sure they are going to get,’’ Vakil said. Though Trump seems to have sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies, he has also refrained from “either dialing down the conflict or escalating it” — risking the spat developing into a long stalemate, she said.

Severing Ties

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar on June 5, citing its dealings with Iran and funding of Islamist groups — charges the tiny sheikhdom has repeatedly denied. In turn, Qatar accuses the Saudis of seeking to dominate smaller neighbors.

Flying Cows to the Desert Is One Qatari’s Way to Beat the Saudis

The isolation has forced the world’s richest country on a per capita basis to open new trade routes to import food, building materials and equipment for its natural gas industry. It also triggered a rating downgrade of Qatar’s sovereign debt by S&P Global Ratings.

“Qatar cannot own stakes in the Empire State Building and the London Shard and use the profits to write checks to affiliates of al Qaeda,” the U.A.E.’s U.S. envoy Yousef Al Otaiba wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. Qatar “must take decisive action to deal once and for all with its extremist problem — to shut down this funding, stop interfering in its neighbors’ internal affairs, and end its media incitement and radicalization,” he wrote.

Qatar hired former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s firm as its lobbyist to provide crisis response and management, media outreach and advocacy that stresses Qatar’s efforts to combat global terrorism, according to U.S. disclosures filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.


On Monday, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker told CNN he was “disappointed” by the U.S.’s stance in the dispute. The U.S. “should be the leader trying to break this blockade, and not sitting and watching what’s going on and putting fuel” on the fire, he said in an interview.

Qatari officials have generally struck a tone of defiance, with Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani expressing his government’s frustration on Monday at not receiving specific demands from the Saudi-led alliance — which he said meant there was no basis for a diplomatic solution.

“Just as they have a right to accuse, we have the right to respond and the right to see the proof behind these allegations,” Al Thani told reporters in Paris in comments broadcast by Al-Jazeera.

After exhaustive efforts to “internationalize its crisis with its brothers,” Qatar will discover that the solution lies in Riyadh and with Saudi King Salman, U.A.E. Foreign Minister Anwar Garghash said on Twitter, in an apparent response to the comments from Qatari officials.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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200 Firefighters Battle Massive Blaze At London High-Rise

Massive fire at 24-storey tower in west London, 40 fire engines at the spot

A massive fire ripped through a 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, police and fire services said.

Witnesses could hear screaming from the upper floors as the flames rose and one desperate resident could be seen waving a white cloth.

Police said they were evacuating the block and “a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries” including two for smoke inhalation.

london fire reuters

Local residents had warned a year ago about a potential fire risk

The fire brigade said 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters had been called to the blaze in Grenfell Tower, which has 120 flats.

“Fire is from 2nd to top floor of 27 storey building,” the fire service said on Twitter.

“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire,” London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner Dan Daly said.

“This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances,” he said.

London mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “Major incident declared at Grenfell Tower”.

Actor and writer Tim Downie, who lives nearby, said: “It’s horrendous. The whole building is engulfed in flames. It’s gone. It’s just a matter of time before this building collapses”.

Police said in a statement they were called at 1:16am local time “to reports of a large fire at a block of flats in the Lancaster West Estate”.

The apartment block was built in 1974.

london fire afp

Witnesses could hear screaming from the upper floors as the flames rose

Local residents had warned a year ago about a potential fire risk caused by rubbish being allowed to accumulate during improvement works.

“This matter is of particular concern as there is only one entry and exit to Grenfell Tower during the improvement works,” read a blog post by the Greenfell Action Group.

“The potential for a fire to break out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out,” it said.

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US Student, Said To Be In Coma, Released From North Korea

A plane carrying University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who had been detained in North Korea for 17 months and was in a coma for most of it, touched down in Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

The 22-year-old’s return marks an end to the ordeal that his family has been through, not knowing what had happened to Warmbier since he was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor in March last year. But the fact that he had been kept, comatose, in North Korea for more than a year could worsen the already tense relationship between Pyongyang and Washington.

Friends and well-wishers gathered outside Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport Terminal ahead of the anticipated 10 p.m. arrival of the plane carrying Warmbier. Two mobile intensive care units arrived at the private terminal where his family was awaiting his arrival, and drove onto the tarmac when the plane landed.

Two women waiting outside the airport fence held signs: “WELCOME HOME OTTO” and “PRAYERS FOR OTTO,” and said they were there to support his family.

Charlotte and David Simons, who said they have been friends of the family for more than 30 years, came to watch his flight come in, too. “We’re just here to support Cindy and Fred and the family,” Charlotte Simons said.

She was feeling “sick to my stomach for them,” she said, thinking of how their son should have been graduating from college this spring.

David Simons was marveling that another country could treat an American like this. “I can only feel for what the family is going through,” he said, shaking his head.

After a senior State Department official flew to Pyongyang to demand Warmbier’s release on humanitarian grounds, he was flown out in a medical evacuation.

“We get to see our son Otto tonight,” Fred Warmbier said in an interview Tuesday morning after his son was evacuated. “We’ll be relieved to have him home and are looking forward to surrounding him with people who love him.”

Warmbier’s parents hadn’t heard from or seen him since he was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor in March of last year for attempting to steal a propaganda poster at the end of a five-day tour of North Korea.

But amid the relief, there were also new questions about what happened to him: How did a healthy young man fall into such a deep coma? The North Korean government told his parents that food poisoning was to blame. And how does the Trump administration respond?

Three other American citizens are being detained in North Korea, at a time when Kim Jong Un has been firing missiles and threatening to strike the United States. President Donald Trump has been vowing to exert “maximum pressure” on North Korea to make it abandon its nuclear weapons program but has also dangled the prospect of talks with Kim, whom he called a “smart cookie.”

Warmbier was flown out of North Korea on the same day that Dennis Rodman, the controversial former basketball star, arrived for his fifth visit to Pyongyang.

Officials involved in securing Warmbier’s release told The Washington Post that it had nothing to do with Rodman’s trip to Pyongyang, calling it a “bizarre coincidence” that might have been a deliberate ploy from North Korea to distract from Warmbier’s condition.

“Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with the release of Mr. Warmbier,” said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, adding that the government was “thankful” that he would soon be home in his parents’ arms.

She also reiterated the State Department’s travel advice against going to North Korea, with which the United States has no diplomatic relations.

“Let me reiterate this: We strongly, strongly suggest that Americans do not go to North Korea,” Nauert said.

At the time of his arrest, Warmbier had been on an organized New Year’s tour in North Korea, a five-day stopover on his way to Hong Kong for a study-abroad trip.

But on his final night in Pyongyang – New Year’s Eve – he apparently went to a staff-only floor of his hotel and attempted to take down a large propaganda sign lauding the regime. He was charged with “hostile acts against the state.”

Surrounded by North Korean guards, Warmbier delivered a highly scripted “confession” that appeared to have been written for him, and after an hour-long sham trial in March 2016, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor.

He had not been seen in public since, and Swedish diplomats, representing U.S. interests, had been denied consular access to him. Officials involved in negotiations to free Warmbier and another American citizen being detained were told they were being treated as prisoners of war.

During a secret meeting in Oslo last month with Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea, high-level North Korean officials agreed that Swedish diplomats in Pyongyang would be allowed to visit the four Americans imprisoned by the North.

But in Pyongyang, the Swedes were allowed to see only one detainee, and it wasn’t Warmbier.

As the Americans continued to push for the Swedish diplomats to see all four, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations urgently requested a meeting with Yun in New York, according to Trump administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the still-secret arrangements. There, North Korean officials told Yun about Warmbier’s condition.

He informed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who consulted with the president, the officials said.

Yun was instructed to prepare to travel to Pyongyang with the intention of bringing Warmbier back to the United States. A medical team and aircraft were organized, and North Korea was informed that a delegation would travel there.

“It wasn’t a situation where they asked,” one official said of the U.S. representatives. The North Koreans “were informed that the airplane would land, American and medical officials would get out.”

Yun was under orders, which the official said came directly from Trump, to demand to see Warmbier immediately, and, “if he was in bad shape,” to demand his immediate release and evacuation on the plane’s return flight to the United States.

Yun arrived in Pyongyang early Monday with two American physicians. They were immediately taken to Warmbier. Yun insisted on Warmbier’s immediate release on humanitarian grounds, officials said, and the North Koreans agreed.

Tillerson called Trump at 8:35 a.m. Tuesday to inform him that Warmbier was on an airplane en route to the United States, an official said. The last instruction the president left Tillerson was: “Take care of Otto,” the official said.

The Warmbier family said they were informed that North Korean officials had told American envoys that their son became ill with botulism soon after his show trial.

The North Korean account, the family said, claimed that Warmbier then fell into a coma after being given a sleeping pill. The Warmbiers said they were told their son has remained in a coma since then.

There was no immediate confirmation from U.S. officials of North Korea’s description of his illness – including whether he was stricken with botulism, a potentially fatal disease that is caused by a toxin but is not usually associated with loss of consciousness. U.S. officials in touch with Yun and medical personnel declined to say whether Warmbier remains in a coma or to make any comment on his current medical condition.

North Korean representatives at the United Nations did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

North Korea has woefully inadequate medical care, and it is not clear how North Korean doctors had been caring for Warmbier for more than a year in an unconscious state.

Warmbier was to have graduated last month had he not been detained.

“While the entire University of Virginia community is relieved to learn of Otto’s release from North Korea, we are deeply concerned and saddened to learn from his family that he is in a coma,” U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement Tuesday.

Annabella Vagonis, a family friend from Reston, Virginia, whose daughter was close with Warmbier at U-Va., said, “We were at turns incredulous, shocked, surprised, joyful and sad, all kind of emotions within a nanosecond of each other when we got the news this morning.

“We are so incredibly joyful that he is finally coming home. We are concerned about his overall health and not knowing the details of his being in a coma. We’re hopeful that with the excellent medical care that he’ll receive that we’ll receive some good news once they examine him. “

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called Warmbier’s arrest and trial “unnecessary and appalling,” while lawmakers from Virginia also denounced North Korea’s actions.

The three other Americans detained by North Korea remain there.

A former Virginia resident and naturalized American citizen, Kim Dong-chul, was arrested shortly after Warmbier on accusations of espionage and was sentenced to 10 years with hard labor.

In April and May, North Korea detained two other Korean Americans, both of them affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a private institution run by Korean American Christians.

Previous detainees have been released after visits from high-profile Americans, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. But efforts to persuade North Korea to release the men now held had not been successful until Warmbier’s release Tuesday.

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung, David Nakamura and Jenna Portnoy in Washington contributed to this report.

VIDEO: After being detained for 17 months in North Korea, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier is due to arrive home in Cincinnati June 13. He has been in a coma for more than a year. (Anna Fifield/The Washington Post)

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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How The Showdown Over Qatar Is Ripping Families Apart

Doha, Qatar:  Jawaher has lived in this tiny nation her whole life. But a political showdown threatens to unravel her world, potentially forcing her to move to a country she hardly knows and splitting her family apart.

Jawaher’s mother is a Qatari citizen, and her father is Bahraini.

That fact seldom has caused problems. But when several other Arab nations severed ties with Qatar last week, three of them – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – also ordered their citizens to return home or face stiff penalties.

Under the laws of Qatar and other Gulf countries, children take the citizenship of their father. That leaves Jawaher and thousands of others like her with a difficult decision.

“If we are made to go to Bahrain, what are we going to do there?” said the 21-year-old university student, who spoke on the condition that her family name not be revealed because she feared repercussions. “And we are going to have to leave our mom behind.
“Our family will be divided.”

In a region where cultural and tribal ties extend beyond national borders, the deepening crisis is creating havoc in Qatari families like Jawaher’s in ways many had never expected.

Parents and spouses traveling abroad are unable to return home. Some have already lost jobs. Children worry about becoming stateless or that their education will be disrupted, and family members in different countries are feuding. There’s a collective sense that they are trapped by the quest for influence and control in the Middle East.

“We have relatives all over the region,” said Rashed al-Jalahma, 22, who is also the child of a Qatari-Bahraini union. “We were in shock and awe when we learned we can no longer see them because of politics. What does the population have to do with the problems of the politicians?”

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE ordered Qatari nationals to leave their territories within 14 days and banned their own citizens from entering Qatar. Citizens living in Qatar were given a similar deadlines to return.

More than 11,000 citizens of the three countries live in Qatar, according to Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee. And thousands of Qataris live and work in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. At least 6,500 Qatari nationals are married to citizens from these three nations, according to Qatari government figures.

Before the crisis, citizens of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC – which includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman – could live and travel freely across the member states. They often refer to themselves as “Khaleejis” – the people of the Gulf.

Tensions, however, between Qatar and its neighbors have been simmering for years over accusations that Qatar supports terrorist groups and Qatar’s ties to Iran’s Shiite theocracy, the primary rival of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni monarchy. That lead to last week’s expulsions of diplomats and the closing of ports, airspace and borders to isolate Qatar.

The small, energy-rich nation, home to a U.S. air base and 10,000 U.S. servicemen, has rejected the allegations as “baseless,” saying that it “condemns terrorism in all its forms.”
Few here expected such a full-blown crisis, especially as millions in the region prepare to celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a time to visit families and friends.

“This has made me so sad,” said Wafa al-Yazeedi, a Qatari doctor and Jalahma’s mother. “We lived and felt like all the Gulf is one country. I have a cousin everywhere.”

She divorced her Bahraini husband when her three children were small. He returned to Bahrain, and her children grew up here with little contact with their father or other relatives.
Now, the children are in a dilemma.

Settling in Bahrain means leaving behind their mother, other relatives, lifelong friends – and their expensive university educations, which the Qatari government pays for.

Staying in Qatar could result in statelessness if Bahrain takes away their citizenship. Qatar has allowed citizens from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE living here to remain, and provides free health care and other services if their mother is Qatari.

Still, being stateless would limit their future opportunities, especially if they want to travel abroad for more studies or work.
“They are controlling us with the passport,” said Jalahma, an aeronautical engineering student. “If the Kingdom of Bahrain revokes my citizenship, so be it . . . I am not worried about losing my passport, but my concerns are about my studies.”

The crisis has already had immediate consequences. In a report last week, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International described the case of a Saudi man living in Qatar who was unable to visit his hospitalized mother in Saudi Arabia because he feared he would not be able to return to his children and Qatari wife.

Jawaher’s family is already divided, at least temporarily. Her father was on a work trip in Bahrain when the crisis erupted, and he has been stuck there ever since. “There’s no way now for him to come back,” she said.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE said they had created hotlines to help families who face separation but gave few details. Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee dismissed the move as “little more than a face-saving” exercise. Amnesty International called the measures “vague and insufficient.”

Some affected families worry the hotlines are ways to gather data on those who complain. Both Bahrain and the UAE last week declared it a crime to criticize their policies toward Qatar or show sympathy with Qatar – offenses that carry multiyear jail sentences.
“It’s fake,” said Yazeedi, referring to Bahrain’s hotline. “I cannot trust them. I won’t call them from my number.”

In Omar al-Ansari’s family, the crisis has struck in multiple ways. His sister and her family – all Qataris – arrived two days earlier, after being ordered to leave Saudi Arabia, where they had studied and worked for six years. Now, she and her husband needs to find new jobs and schools for their five children.

Last week, the family’s divisions erupted on their WhatsApp chat forum, with an aunt in Bahrain criticizing Qatar and its policies and the Qatari side of the family denouncing Bahrain and its allies.
“Our family in Bahrain thinks Qatar is wrong, and we think they are not,” said Ansari, 23, a university senior whose mother is Qatari and father is Bahraini. “That’s causing friction between our families. It’s not a nice situation to be in.”

His Bahraini identification card has expired. So has his Qatari one. But he can’t renew his Qatari ID unless he has a valid one from Bahrain. And if he travels there, he won’t be allowed to return because of his citizenship.

So he can’t open up a bank account, get a new phone or a new driver’s license – which also recently expired – or access other government services.

“I’m kind of stuck,” Ansari said.

Jia Naqvi contributed to this report.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Uber Director David Bonderman Quits Following Sexist Comment

Billionaire David Bonderman is a founding partner of investment firm TPG capital.

San Francisco:  Uber Technologies Inc director David Bonderman said on Tuesday that he has resigned from the company’s board following a remark he made during an Uber staff meeting that was widely seen as offensive to women. Bonderman’s ill-timed remark came during an all-staff meeting Tuesday to discuss of how the ride-services company plans to transform itself following a probe into sexual harassment at the company.

Bonderman said in a statement sent to Reuters that he did not want his comments to create distraction for Uber, which is working to rid its culture of sexual harassment and discrimination.

His resignation from the board is effective Wednesday morning.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Uber board member Arianna Huffington spoke to employees about the importance of adding more women to the board of directors.

“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” Huffington said.

In response, Bonderman said: “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.” 

The comment was disclosed through a recording of the meeting that was published by Yahoo. An Uber spokesman verified the authenticity and accuracy of the recording.

Bonderman, who is a founder of private equity firm TPG Capital, an Uber investor, shortly after wrote an email to Uber staff to apologize.

In his resignation statement that followed on Tuesday evening, Bonderman reiterated his regret, calling his remarks “careless, inappropriate, and inexcusable” and “the opposite of what I intended.”

“I take full responsibility for that,” he said. “I need to hold myself to the same standards that we’re asking Uber to adopt.”

Bonderman and other board members had joined Tuesday’s staff meeting to lay out recommendations from an investigation into sexual harassment, diversity, inclusion and other employee concerns led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Holder’s law firm was retained by Uber in February after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote a public account of her time at the company, which she said was marred by sexual harassment and an ineffective response by management.

The recommendations, which were unanimously adopted by the board on Sunday, call for reducing Chief Executive Travis Kalanick’s sweeping authority at the firm and instituting more controls over spending, human resources and the behavior of managers.

(Reporting by Heather Somerville; editing by Clive McKeef) 

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Wu Xiaohui steps aside as Anbang chairman

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Anbang Insurance Group

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Wu Xiaohui was long thought to be one of China’s most politically-connected businessmen

One of China’s best known billionaires, Wu Xiaohui, is stepping aside as chairman of Anbang Insurance.

The company gave few details but said he was no longer able to fulfil his duties for “personal reasons”.

A Chinese magazine had reported that Mr Wu was detained by authorities last week, but later deleted its article.

Anbang is known for a number of high profile international acquisitions, like the purchase of New York’s Waldorf Astoria in 2015.

The company, which manages some 1.65tn yuan (£190bn; $242bn) worth of assets, said in a statement that the chairman’s duties would be managed by other senior executives.

It did not comment on the report by the independent Caijing magazine that he had been detained.

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Anbang bought the Waldorf-Astoria for close to $2bn

Earlier, Anbang had denied a report by the Financial Times that Mr Wu had been stopped from travelling abroad.

Political connections

Anbang had recently been in talks with a real estate company part-owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner.

The two sides were reportedly negotiating a deal to redevelop one of Kushner Companies’ Manhattan buildings.

The possible deal had raised media speculation over a potential conflict of interest and was called off in “mutual agreement” without any reasons given.

Wu Xiaohui had long been considered one of the most politically connected men in China having married the grand-daughter of former leader, Deng Xiaoping.

His company has over the past years been among the biggest players of Chinese firms pursuing high-profile overseas acquisitions and investments.

In 2016, Anbang paid private equity firm Blackstone $6.5bn for the ownership of Strategic Hotels & Resorts, a portfolio of upmarket hotels and resorts.

That purchase added 16 luxury properties across the US to Anbang’s holdings, including the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, and the Four Seasons hotels in Silicon Valley and Washington.

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High-Level US Visit Leads North Korea To Free American Student In Coma

Washington:  Otto Warmbier, an American university student held prisoner in North Korea for 17 months and said by his family to be in a coma, has been medically evacuated from the reclusive country after a rare visit there from a high-level US official.

Warmbier, 22, a University of Virginia student from suburban Cincinnati, was on his way back to the United States on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

The release came after Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korea, travelled to Pyongyang and demanded his freedom on “humanitarian grounds,” capping a flurry of secret diplomatic contacts, a US official said.

Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy, confirmed their son was on a medevac flight, which was due to arrive on Tuesday evening US time.

“Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016,” the parents said in a statement. “We learnt of this only one week ago. We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalised and terrorised by the pariah regime in North Korea.”

Warmbier was detained in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March last year for trying to steal an item with a propaganda slogan, according to North Korean media.

A spokesperson at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Warmbier would be treated there. 

The family said it was told by North Korean officials, through contacts with American envoys, that Warmbier fell ill from botulism sometime after his March 2016 trial and lapsed into a coma after taking a sleeping pill, the Washington Post reported.

The New York Times quoted a senior US official as saying that Washington recently received intelligence reports that Warmbier had been repeatedly beaten in custody.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, asked whether Warmbier’s release could open the way for dialogue amid high tensions between the Trump administration and North Korea, said: “It’s just too soon to say.”

Hours after the release, the U.S. government blamed Pyongyang for a raft of cyber-attacks stretching back to 2009, while warning more were likely.

Warmbier’s release came as former US basketball star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Tuesday, returning to the nuclear-armed country where he previously met leader Kim Jong-un.

The State Department denied any connection between Warmbier’s release and Rodman’s visit, which the Trump administration said it did not authorise.

The State Department is continuing to discuss three other detained Americans with North Korea, Tillerson said. 

Since taking office in January, US President Donald Trump has faced a growing national security challenge from North Korea, which has conducted a series of ballistic missile tests in defiance of U.S. and international sanctions.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, speaking to reporters on Air Force One, said “bringing Otto home was a big priority for the president.”


In rare high-level contacts, Yun met senior North Korean officials in Oslo in May, where it was agreed that Swedish officials in Pyongyang, who handle US consular affairs there, would be allowed to see all four American detainees, a State Department official said.

The North Koreans later urgently requested another meeting in New York, and Yun met North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations on June 6 and was told about Warmbier’s “condition,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tillerson consulted with Trump, and arrangements were made for Yun and a medical team to travel to Pyongyang, the official said.

Yun arrived on Monday, visited Warmbier with two doctors and demanded his release, the official said. The North Koreans agreed and he was flown out on Tuesday, the official said.

“In no uncertain terms North Korea must explain the causes of his coma,” Bill Richardson, a veteran former diplomat and politician who has played a role in past negotiations with North Korea, said in a statement after speaking to Warmbier’s parents.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Trump Gives US Military Authority To Set Afghan Troop Levels: US Official

Current and former US officials say discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

Washington:  U.S. President Donald Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, opening the door for future troop increases requested by the U.S. commander.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no immediate decision had been made about the troop levels, which are now set at about 8,400.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

The decision is similar to one announced in April that applied to U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria, and came as Mattis warned Congress the U.S.-backed Afghan forces were not beating the Taliban despite more than 15 years of war.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday. “And we will correct this as soon as possible.”

Mattis said the Taliban were “surging” at the moment, something he said he intended to address.

It has been four months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, said he needed “a few thousand” additional forces, some potentially drawn from U.S. allies.

Current and former U.S. officials say discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops. Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews.

Deliberations include giving more authority to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters.

Some U.S. officials have questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001.

Any increase of several thousand troops would leave American forces in Afghanistan well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops.

The Afghan government was assessed by the U.S. military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts as of Feb. 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

A truck bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a NATO-led coalition after ruling the country for five years.

On Saturday, three U.S. soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan.

The broader regional U.S. strategy for Afghanistan remains unclear. Mattis promised on Tuesday to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more U.S. troops.

Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, pressed Mattis on the deteriorating situation during the Tuesday hearing, saying the United States had an urgent need for “a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around.”

“We recognise the need for urgency,” Mattis said.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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US Attorney General Dodges Donald Trump Questions, Angering Democrats

Washington:  U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday denounced as a “detestable lie” the idea he colluded with Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and he clashed with Democratic lawmakers over his refusal to detail his conversations with President Donald Trump.

Sessions, a senior member of Trump’s Cabinet and an adviser to his election team, had a series of tense exchanges with Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee during about 2-1/2 hours of high-stakes testimony as they pressed him to recount discussions with the Republican president.

“You raised your right hand here today and said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich said. “Now you’re not answering questions. You’re impeding this investigation.”

Sessions refused to say whether he and Trump discussed FBI director James Comey’s handling of an investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the election campaign before the president fired Comey on May 9.

He declined to say whether Trump expressed concern over Sessions’ decision in March to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, and he refused to say if Justice Department officials discussed possible presidential pardons of individuals being looked at in the probe.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Sessions, “I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling. Americans don’t want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged.”

“I am not stonewalling,” Sessions replied, saying he was simply following Justice Department policy not to discuss confidential communications with the president.

Sessions’ testimony did not provide damaging new information on any Trump campaign ties with Russia or on Comey’s firing, but his refusal to discuss conversations with Trump raised fresh questions about whether the White House has something to hide.

Last week, Comey told the same Senate committee that Trump had fired him to undermine the FBI’s investigation of the Russia matter.

Sessions had recommended that Comey be fired, and Trump’s decision prompted critics to charge that the president was trying to interfere with a criminal investigation. Sessions on Tuesday defended his involvement in Comey’s firing despite recusing himself from the Russia probe.

Senator Angus King, an independent, questioned Sessions’ legal basis for refusing to answer questions after Sessions said Trump had not invoked executive privilege regarding the conversations.

Executive privilege is a power that can be claimed by a president or senior executive branch officials to withhold information from Congress or the courts to protect the executive branch decision-making process.

Sessions said it would be “inappropriate” for him to reveal private conversations with Trump when the president “has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision on whether or not to approve such an answer.”

‘Appalling And Detestable Lie’

Sessions’ clash with the Democratic senators was the latest chapter in a saga that has dogged Trump’s first five months as president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including major healthcare and tax cut initiatives.

“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honour for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said.

“I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected with the Trump campaign.”

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a report released in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to interfere in the election to help Trump in part by hacking and releasing damaging emails about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Russia has denied any such interference, and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign with Moscow.

Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in March after revelations that he had failed to disclose two meetings last year with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak.

In his testimony on Tuesday, Sessions addressed media reports that he may have had a third previously undisclosed meeting with Kislyak at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel last year.

Sessions said he did not have any private meetings and could not recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the hotel but did not rule out that a “brief interaction” with Kislyak may have occurred there.

Sessions, a Republican former senator, was an early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign. But there has been tension between the two men in recent weeks because Trump was annoyed that Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe.

Sessions said on Tuesday he did not recuse himself because he felt he was a subject of the investigation himself but rather because he felt he was required to by Justice Department rules.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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France And Britain Announce Anti-Terror Action Plan

Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron agreed that more should be done to tackle the terrorist threat online.

Paris, France:  The leaders of France and Britain on Tuesday announced an anti-terror action plan to crack down on radicalisation through social media.

After talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said both countries agreed that social networks were not doing enough to stamp out terror propaganda.

Speaking after terror attacks in Manchester and London, Macron said the two countries had worked on a “very concrete” action plan.

He said one of the key measures would aim at preventing the incitement of “hate and terrorism” on the internet.

May said she and Macron agreed that “more should be done to tackle the terrorist threat online”.

She said the British and French campaign was aimed to “ensure the internet cannot… be used to host the radicalising material that leads to so much harm.”

May said the British government was already working with social media companies “to halt the spread of extremist material and poisonous propaganda that warps young minds”, adding: “But we know they need to do more.

“Today we can announce that the UK and France will work together to encourage organisations to do more and abide by their social responsibility to step up their efforts to remove harmful content from their networks.”

The campaign includes exploring the possibility of legal penalties against tech companies if they fail to take the necessary action to remove unacceptable content, May said.

Britain was rocked by a suicide bombing at a pop concert on May 22 which killed 22 people, including children, followed two weeks later by a knife and van attack in central London, which left eight dead.

France has been a constant target for jihadist attacks since 2015, with more than 230 people killed.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Pay more, wait longer

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Five Guys

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Five Guys’ Paul Reynish says burgers should be part of a balanced diet, but he eats one a day when he’s working in stores

Burgers used to be fast and cheap – the epitome of fast food. But now a different type of patty exported from the US is rapidly expanding across the globe. What’s driving the rise of the so called “better burger”?

“What’s fascinating”, observes Paul Reynish, chief executive of US burger chain Five Guys International, is “the complete fundamental change” that has taken place with people prepared to pay more and wait longer for a more upmarket burger.

We’re speaking via phone whilst he’s in the firm’s Belfast restaurant, doing what he calls “product calibration” – where the firm tries to match US ingredients not available or allowed under EU laws with local alternatives.

Making sure its overseas burgers taste the same as those in the US is important, he says.

“Unless you have consistency there is no brand… you’ve got to have some confidence that the burger you have in Dubai and Paris is the same as the one you have in California and Miami,” he says.

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Evan Sung

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Shake Shack has adapted its offering to local tastes, offering a red bean shake in Korea and veal bacon in countries where pork isn’t eaten

This is still a fairly new experience for the firm, which opened its first restaurant outside the US just four years ago.

The family controlled firm, started by husband and wife team Jerry and Janie Murrell and their five sons in 1986, is one of the biggest operators in the so called “better burger” market.

This is where the cheap fast food staple morphs into the world of cooked-to-order, brioche buns, grass fed cattle and triple cooked chips.

A level up from the fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King and two to three times more expensive, these types of burger bars still tend to be cheaper and more relaxed than a restaurant meal.

In a world where prices are rising faster than pay, it’s an affordable indulgence. Yes it’s a treat but not one that’ll put too much of a dent in your bank balance. So called millennials, the generation that came of age after the 2008 financial crisis, are their core customers.

The trend of diners wanting to know where their food comes from, how it was prepared, and the “story” behind it has also helped drive the better burger’s rapid expansion.

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Five Guys

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Currently just 150 of Five Guys’ 1,450 restaurants are outside the US

Five Guys, for example, boasts of 120-day grain beef finished from family owned farms in Ireland. Less than 1% of all UK beef qualifies, it says.

“Burgers, fries, shakes and coke it’s a pretty simple model,” says Mr Reynish.

Nonetheless, it’s a profitable market, worth some £3.3bn in the UK last year, according to market research firm Mintel.

The US and the UK aren’t the only ones with an appetite for a more upmarket burger. Five Guys is currently in nine countries, but expects to expand to 28 over the next five years.

It’s not to everyone’s taste.

“Overpriced, overrated and over here,” is one disgruntled Trip Advisor reviewer’s verdict on the explosion of higher end US burger places in the UK.

Yet Mr Reynish says it was demands from visitors to the US desperate to experience the burgers in their home countries that drove their decision to expand.

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Shake Shack

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Shake Shack’s Michael Kark says the firm’s rapid expansion wasn’t planned

In contrast to Five Guys, US rival Shake Shack wasn’t even a chain when it decided to take its concept overseas.

“Quite honestly it’s serendipitous we’re even talking now…Shake Shack was totally an accident,” laughs Michael Kark.

As vice president of Shake Shack’s licensed business, he is the man in charge of the firm’s international expansion.

The firm’s taken an unusual approach to expansion, opening restaurants overseas before it was an established presence in its home country.

Less than a decade ago the firm was a temporary stand in a New York park with queues so long that one fan set up a webcam so people could see at a glance just how long they’d have to wait.

It was after the firm, founded by restaurateur Danny Meyer, opened its second restaurant, that Kuwaiti firm Alshaya approached them about opening a franchise.

“Kuwait isn’t top of most brand’s list”, admits Mr Kark. But for the firm which was then “really really tiny”, it turned out to be a massive opportunity.

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Shake Shack

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Shake Shack now has 133 locations globally, with 83 of these in the US

They agreed a licensing deal whereby Shake Shack took a one-off fee plus a percentage of sales. Its a model the firm has stuck to for all its overseas restaurants.

The experience helped its success: “As a company we were really great at creating one off concepts but we had no experience about duplication,” says Mr Kark.

But why on earth did Alshaya choose Shake Shack?

Mr Kark says when he asked him, the group’s founder said it was the really long queues.

“We’d gained this enormous cult following and that’s how he found us.”

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Meat Liquor

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Scott Collins (left) and Yianni Papoutsis say they deliberately make their restaurants hard to find

Burger bars often inspire a cult-like following.

UK burger firm Meat Liquor began as irregular gatherings called #Meateasy advertised on Twitter. At that stage there was no restaurant, website or permanent venue, but just a hashtag and a burger van dubbed the “meatwagon”.

Nonetheless, people would trek to south London and queue for two hours just to get a taste of their particular take on classic American diner food. It wasn’t just the food, but the atmosphere that lured customers. With violently loud music and dark graffiti-adorned walls, the venues are more like a nightclub than a restaurant.

The first meatwagon was vandalised and the second was stolen. Founder Yianni Papoutsis, who was juggling the ad hoc stall with his job as a technician for the English National Ballet, eventually teamed up with pub owner Scott Collins to find a restaurant in 2010.

Now the pair have 13 sites and expect to make £17m in sales this year. “It’s more like luck than judgement,” says Mr Collins.

More stories from the BBC’s global trade series looking at trade from an international perspective:

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But one thing hasn’t changed. They still make customers seek them out. Their restaurants are often in sites other restaurants reject, tucked away in alleyways, or unusual places such as an ice rink or a box park made of shipping containers.

“Part of our USP is that we’re hidden away,” says Scott Collins. But for people fed up with queuing it now lets customers reserve tables.

He says there’s really nothing new about the gourmet burger craze which has long been a pub menu staple.

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Meat Liquor

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Meat Liquor’s restaurants have a nightclub-like atmosphere

It’s this very popularity which could eventually slow the sector’s growing success. Mintel says the fact that there is so much competition, often in the exact same locations, means it’s becoming harder for firms to attract customers.

Five Guys Mr Reynish isn’t worried.

“We’re just not seeing any reduction in demand or frequency. Our annual sales per store are going up not down,” he says.

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Emmanuel Macron Says 'Door Always Open' For UK To Stay In European Union

Emmanuel Macron said that he respected the sovereign decision of the British people to leave the EU

Paris, France:  French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday the door was “always open” for Britain to remain in the EU after Prime Minister Theresa May said Brexit talks would begin next week.

“Of course the door is always open as long as the negotiations on Brexit have not finished,” Macron said in a press conference.

But he stressed too that he respected the sovereign decision of the British people to leave the EU in their referendum a year ago, adding that the start of talks was an important milestone.

“We need to be clear and organised and once it (the Brexit process) has started we need to be collectively clear that it’s more difficult to reverse course,” he said at the Elysee palace.

Macron’s comments echoed others by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Tuesday.

“If they wanted to change their decision, of course they would find open doors, but I think it’s not very likely,” Schaeuble told Bloomberg Television.

May repeated her plans to stick to her timetable of starting discussions next week despite ongoing negotiations to form a government.

She was also asked if the loss of her parliamentary majority in a bungled snap election last week would alter her decision to withdraw Britain from the EU single market and customs union, a so-called “hard Brexit”.

“I think there’s a unity of purpose among people in the UK. It’s a unity of purpose having voted to leave the EU that their government gets on with that and makes a success of it,” she said.

May said the process would lead to “an arrangement for Brexit which will be the interests of the United Kingdom and the remaining 27 members of the EU.”

After the talks, May and Macron also announced a joint action plan to tackle online extremism which aims to increase the pressure on internet giants and social media companies to tackle terror propaganda and hate speech.

It includes exploring the creation of new laws that would impose penalties on internet companies if they failed to act.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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One in 10 in serious debt 'have no bed'

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One in 10 clients of a debt charity have no bed to sleep in and eight in 10 say their financial situation leads to sleepless nights.

A review of visitors to Christians Against Poverty also found that three-quarters of them were afraid to open their post.

The charity said that the survey exposed the day-to-day realities of living with unmanageable debt.

The average debt of new clients seeking help last year was £14,298.

Among the practical effects of debt identified by the charity were:

  • A third of clients having gone without at least one essential item, such as a washing machine, causing inconvenience and extra cost by visiting laundrettes and other services
  • A fifth of those asked had rented or bought at least one item on hire purchase
  • A fifth had no internet access

Some 91% of clients had used some form of credit to pay an essential bill or other debt.

This money was borrowed primarily from friends and family (64%), and credit cards (64%) followed by overdrafts (55%).

“This is an unsustainable solution that pushes the financial crunch point further down the line, but escalates the level of debt when this happens,” the charity’s annual review found.

“Shame, fear and believing no one can help cause clients to delay seeking help for two years on average. This extended period of financial hardship and worry sees living standards and mental health deteriorate as debts spiral out of control.

“This means seven in 10 end up behind with a priority bill and average debt levels hit more than £14,000 before clients get the help they need.”

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A separate survey of debt by financial services company True Potential suggested that debt tolerance was higher among men.

The average debt threshold was £1,797, with men reaching debts of £1,960 before recognising it as a problem, compared with £1,645 among women. Adults under 25 reached £748 of debt before worries set in, compared with a figure of £2,299 among 45 to 54-year-olds.

“Personal debt is the elephant in the room. Consumer confidence and spending have been creeping up but there is growing concern that it is built on quicksand in the shape of rising individual debts. Underpinning this is easy access to debt, the costs of which are poorly understood,” said managing partner David Harrison.

“But this is not just about people splashing cash they don’t have. A big worry is the proportion of people needing debt just to get by. That’s a bubble waiting to burst. The cost of living is 2.7% higher today compared to a year ago, adding an extra £468 to household bills.”

‘The floor was covered in rotting clothes’

In its report, Christians Against Poverty highlights the story of one of the charity’s clients – Mark.

“My situation went downhill when my mental state deteriorated. I became anxious and depressed. I lost interest in life,” he says.

“My studio flat fell into disrepair. It was dusty, dirty, full of broken furniture. The boiler didn’t work. I slept on the floor. The bathroom pipes were broken and the floor was covered in rotting clothes. It was in an appalling state. I couldn’t deal with the wreckage.

“I approached a number of services for help, but I never quite seemed to fit the category. I wasn’t ill enough for one group, I wasn’t drinking enough for another. So they kept referring me on and I became socially isolated.

“I had difficulties paying my mortgage, and I was in no position to work to earn the money to pay what I owed. It’s fair to say I didn’t know what my options were. I wondered if I’d be evicted and made homeless, if I’d have to kill myself. I wondered if I’d have to commit a crime so I could go to jail instead.”

He says that the charity helped him start applying for jobs, to begin sorting out his debts and to put his flat on the market to avoid repossession.

Bank’s concern

The City regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – and the Bank of England have warned of an acceleration in consumer borrowing, such as loans, overdrafts, credit card debt and car finance.

The FCA is already conducting is own inquiry into overdrafts, door-to-door lending and other forms of loans. Consumer groups have consistently argued there should be an overdraft cap in place.

A Lords committee also recently called for stronger controls such as a cap on “rent to own” products.

On Tuesday, the Financial Ombudsman Service said it had seen a nine-fold rise in complaints about payday loans in the last two years.

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Tough school?

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Teach for Afghanistan wants to make sure that girls have an equal chance of going to school

The idea of drafting a nation’s brightest new graduates to become teachers in the most deprived areas has been used in both the United States and the UK, where the approach was pioneered by Teach for America and Teach First respectively.

But how would this model fare in a country where the education system had been pulverised by four decades of constant war and conflict – Afghanistan?

The answer to this question is unfolding in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, where 80 graduates from Afghan universities are teaching 23,000 girls and boys in 21 schools under the Teach for Afghanistan scheme launched at the beginning of this academic year.

The scheme is the realisation of the dream of its founder and chief executive, Rahmatullah Arman, who at 26 has taken on a challenge which might deter the most courageous social reformer.

Mr Arman returned to Afghanistan in 2011 after studying at the University of Pune in India, where he also volunteered for the Teach for India scheme.

No desks, but lots of students

Impressed by the transformation he had witnessed in Indian schools, he decided to attempt something similar back home. But first he had to educate himself about what remained of the Afghan education system and the country’s social fabric.

He was both shocked and inspired. After 14 years of US-backed reconstruction, Afghanistan was still a country where 3.6 million children were not in school, where half of the teachers were unqualified, where 75% of pupils dropped out by the age of 15, and where the adult illiteracy rate hovered around 60%.

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Rahmatullah Arman is getting talented young graduates to teach in Afghanistan’s schools

“For me, the biggest inspiration was when I went into schools where there were no chairs, no desks, often not even teachers, but the schools were still crowded with pupils,” said Mr Arman, speaking in Kabul.

“I saw families taking their children to school, even where a blast could happen at any time, with all the security problems of which we are all aware, and yet still there are nine million children at school.

“I saw the hope that the people have, the spirit of not giving up. They have lost their futures, but their children might have a future.”

He was convinced that he could give these children “Not only an education but a very good education, not by others but by Afghans themselves.”

Global education

Get in touch with the Global education series.

So in 2013 he started to create what would become Teach for Afghanistan with help from the global umbrella organisation, Teach for All (which was created jointly by Teach for America and Teach First in 2007).

Mr Arman set high criteria for his recruitment drive. To join, applicants needed “not just a degree but at least 75% marks” as well as leadership experience and communication skills.

“Something really wonderful happened,” Mr Arman said. “For 80 positions we received 3,000 applications, all meeting the criteria, and 99% were from Afghan universities.”

Educating girls

It was important that many of these “fellows” were female, to show by example that a girl could become fully educated, get a good job, and still get married and have children.

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More than 150 died in a suicide bomb attack in Kabul last month

In traditional Afghan communities, to be able to read and write was regarded as enough education for a girl. Teach for Afghanistan has a different view.

“It is about changing mindsets, and that is a very long-term process”, Mr Arman said.

In one example, a female teacher, Manzoora, heard that the parents of two girls in her class of 14 to 15 year olds wanted to take them out of school.

She begged the parents to come and see her; the mother came, observed lessons, talked to the teacher, went back home. And after much discussion, they decided to let the girls stay in school.

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Getty Images

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A classroom without walls or desks. Outdoor school near Jalalabad, Nangarhar

Given the continuing violence within Afghanistan, did Arman fear for his own safety? “Actually, no, because the approach we take is very local, we are building good relationships with community leaders and religious leaders as well.”

“Since we started, we have not witnessed a single attack on any of our fellows, on any of the schools or pupils.”

And if, at first, some incumbent teachers and officials saw Teach for Afghanistan’s fellows as competitors, they quickly learned to welcome them as partners, he added.

Tackling extremism

The fellows receive the same salary – about 9,000 Afghanis – as state teachers. It’s not a good salary, Mr Arman agreed: “But we convince them they can have a better future, which is much more than just a salary.”

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Female education has been attacked, with claims schoolgirls were poisoned last month in Ghazni

Throughout their two-year commitment, fellows receive leadership training and support that will open up many different opportunities for them, he added.

Mr Arman is convinced that Afghanistan’s future depends on releasing the potential of its youth: “Afghanistan has the youngest population in the world and I believe it could be our greatest asset.”

He also believed education was the most effective way of countering the appeal of extremism and terrorism. He quotes Pakistani education activist Malala Yousufzai: “I don’t want to kill terrorists, I want to educate the children of terrorists”.

“That is the true way to eradicate extremism in my country”.

With help from the Malala Fund, Teach for Afghanistan has just recruited a further 30 fellows – 20 female, 10 male – to begin teaching in schools in Parwan province this month.

Ultimately he hopes to be able to supply teachers to all 34 provinces: “The need is to go national, the need is huge, and we will go for it.”

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Justin Trudeau Under Pressure To Reject China Bid For Satellite Firm

Justin Trudeau rejected the criticism about his government’s handling of the case.

Ottawa, Canada:  Pressure ratcheted up Tuesday on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to effectively deny a Chinese firm’s purchase of Canadian satellite communications company Norsat, over national security concerns.

Its purchase by Hytera Communications was approved earlier this month, after a routine security analysis.

But since then, opposition parties, two former Canadian spy masters and a US congressional commission have raised concerns over the sale, which was put on hold Monday after a US hedge fund came forward with an unsolicited rival bid.

The purchase of Norsat became the main topic of discussion in parliament over the past week, culminating Tuesday with Trudeau himself rejecting criticism about his government’s handling of the case and refusing to back down.

“Our national security experts assessed the deal and the technology, and concluded there were no national security concerns,” he said. “We always follow the advice of our security experts on these matters.

“On top of that,” he added, “we do consult with our allies, and in this case, directly consulted with the United States on this situation.”

Opposition parties accused the Trudeau government of fast-tracking approvals in order to curry favor with Beijing as Ottawa looks to expand trade with China.

They called for a more thorough national security review on the impacts of the transfer of Norsat’s technologies outside Canada.

“How can the prime minister claim there were no national security concerns when there has been no national security review?” asked New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair, accusing Trudeau of “trying to invent a new category of careful assessment.”

Beijing has said it regards national security reviews as a form of protectionism.

On Monday, the head of the congressional US-China Economic and Security Review Commission told The Globe and Mail newspaper that “Canada’s approval of the sale of Norsat to a Chinese entity raises significant national-security concerns for the United States as the company is a supplier to our military.

“Canada may be willing to jeopardize its own security interests to gain favor with China,” he said, adding it should not put the security of its ally at risk in the process.

Norsat’s customers include the US, Irish, Scandinavian and Taiwanese militaries, NATO, aircraft manufacturer Boeing, and media firms Reuters, The Associated Press and Fox News.

At the same time, Norsat’s board has asked Hytera to match an US$11.50 per share bid by Privet Fund Management of Atlanta or it will accept Privet’s offer.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan Slams 'Inhumane' Isolation Of Qatar

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would hold 3-way phone talks on the crisis.

Istanbul, Turkey:  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday slammed the economic and political isolation of Qatar as inhumane and contrary to Islamic values after key Gulf states broke off ties with Ankara’s ally.

“Taking action to isolate a country in all areas is inhumane and un-Islamic,” Erdogan said in televised comments to his party in Ankara, after Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”.

In his strongest comments yet on the crisis, Erdogan added that Qatar was a country “on which a death sentenced had in some way been pronounced”.

The crisis has put Turkey in a delicate position as Ankara regards Qatar as its chief ally in the Gulf but is also keen to maintain its improving relations with the key regional power Saudi Arabia.

Turkey also is eager to maintain workable relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s foe with whom Doha’s critics say Qatar maintained excessively close ties.

Erdogan added he would hold three-way phone talks on the crisis later Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron and Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. No reports of the talks had materialised by midnight on Tuesday.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Qatar on Wednesday for talks with the emir, the foreign ministry said.

Cavusoglu will also hold talks with Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, a ministry statement said, adding “recent regional developments” would be discussed, without giving further details.

‘Saudi must take lead’

The move by Saudi and its allies came shortly after US President Donald Trump visited Riyadh, with some analysts saying the US leader had emboldened the Saudi leadership.

Earlier, Cavusoglu said that Erdogan would hold talks on the crisis with Trump in the coming days.

Erdogan vehemently rejected the accusations — already strongly denied by Doha — that Qatar supports terrorism, arguing the country had been a staunch opponent of Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

“Qatar is a country which, like Turkey, has adopted the most resolute stance against Daesh (IS),” said Erdogan. “Let’s stop fooling ourselves.”

Striking a careful balance, Erdogan stopped short of directly criticising Saudi Arabia’s actions but called on Saudi King Salman to show leadership by solving the crisis.

“I think that as the elder statesman of the Gulf, the king of Saudi Arabia should solve this affair and show leadership,” said Erdogan.

Turkey’s parliament last week approved deploying troops to a Turkish base in Qatar in what was seen as a show of support for its embattled ally.

The agreement does not contain any specific number of troops to be stationed in the base, or when.

A forward party of several dozen Turkish troops are currently reportedly stationed at the base but the parliament mandate could allow Ankara to send a formal deployment of thousands more to its ally.

The Turkish army said in a statement that a three-person Turkish military delegation was currently in Qatar to carry out preparation work for the deployment of troops in the future.

The curbs placed on gas-rich Qatar have ranged from bans on flag-carrier Qatar Airways using airspace of the countries involved to Saudi Arabia suspending subscription sales and renewals to a Qatar-linked sports broadcaster.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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